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Systemic Change

Four young attorneys look toward the next 30 years of law

Published in 2022 Minnesota Super Lawyers magazine

Besides being lawyers, Minnesotans, and Rising Stars listees, what do Maria Brekke, Cresston Gackle, Colin Pasterski and Rachel Davis Scherf have in common? Super Lawyers lists are older than they are. They were all born after the 1991 creation of Super Lawyers.

So how do they feel about the next 30 years?

“I look around at my colleagues, and I see people who are compassionate, devoted, and committed to being excellent at what they do,” says Brekke, 28, a business litigator at Nilan Johnson Lewis. “At the same time, I see people prioritizing making time for themselves and their lives outside of work. That’s a necessary shift for our profession if we want to reduce burnout and improve lawyers’ mental and physical health.”

Pasterski, a 30-year-old employment lawyer at Halunen Law, says it’s up to Gen Z and millennial attorneys to enact the changes that the industry has historically resisted. “These generations place significant value in a workplace that offers a work-life balance and a focus toward improving the wellbeing of its employees,” he says.

Still, the path ahead remains complicated, and Pasterski adds that the pandemic further blurred the lines between work and personal time. 

“For attorneys who work remotely or on a hybrid model, it can be difficult to unplug from work,” he says. “I’m still learning how to navigate through overworking and managing stress in order to have a healthy work-life balance.”

Scherf, an immigration lawyer with Davis & Goldfarb, says adaptability, as important as it’s become recently for attorneys, will only become more so.

“It’s hard to ask lawyers if they’re optimistic,” she says. “I had a baby during the pandemic, so that’s given me a different perspective. COVID has shown me that we need to be a lot more flexible.” 

As for biggest prominent challenges the attorneys expect to face?

“Burnout,” says Pasterski. “Between heavy caseloads, meeting the demands of clients, and managing quick deadlines, we are strongly encouraged—and sometimes mandated—to work ever-increasing hours.”

Scherf says one challenge facing firms is keeping up with the increasing technological demands.

“Adapting to new technology and finding ways to incorporate it is always something we’re thinking about,” she says. “We’ve done that successfully, but the tech part of the business is changing constantly. Staying up to date is crucial.”

Twenty-nine-year-old Cresston Gackle, who runs his own juvenile and family court practice in Minneapolis, says one of the biggest challenges ahead might exist in the structure of the legal industry itself.

“Institutions are very rigid, and they have the backing of history behind them,” he says. “I think that large and mid-sized firms—as well as the court system—have long had in place very old systems that are not easy to replace. 

“There’s an incredible amount of pressure on both of those systems right now. But I’m optimistic that they’ll continue to change. The pandemic has given everyone a sense of urgency about making those changes.”

Every generation of lawyers finds its own way of doing things. But there’s always plenty of wisdom to pick up from those who’ve come before.

“One thing I’ve learned from the previous generation is the importance of relationship building—with clients and with other attorneys,” says Scherf, who works alongside her father and brother. “Fortunately, we have a great legal community here, and that makes it easier.”

“What can we learn from previous generations? Humility,” says Pasterski. “I started my first job after passing the bar naively believing I knew everything I needed to practice law. I was very wrong. With age comes experience, and I look to the senior attorneys at my firm for input on case strategy. I find myself constantly learning from my more seasoned colleagues and mentors.”

As for what their generation brings to the table, these four lawyers point to strengths that include increased teamwork and self-care.

“My generation approaches challenges with a sense of openness and collaboration,” says Brekke. “We are willing to learn, to think outside the box, and listen to other perspectives. I think all of those things can help us reach some really creative solutions.”

“There’s a huge turn toward seeing the profession for what it is: It’s a way to make a living,” says Gackle. “A lot of lawyers would rather have fewer hours and potentially less pay in exchange for doing more of the things they like to do outside of billing.

“My generation is finding its voice when it comes to things they don’t find acceptable in the workplace. The generation just behind us is having no trouble finding its voice.”

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