Special Coverage

Breaking Down Millennial Stereotypes

“If you see a need, fill it.” That philosophy is how Jenna Carter has approached life.

Valerie A. Danner

Ever since joining ALA in 2011, Jenna — who is Office Administrator at Ropes & Gray LLP in Washington, D.C., and President-Elect for the Capital Chapter — was eager to give back to the organization that she says gave her so much.

“I would not be who I am as a leader in my firm without everything I learned from ALA,” she says. “My career really took off once I got involved in ALA.”

As a result, she wasted no time getting involved with her local chapter.

While serving Vice President of Community Services for the Capital Chapter, she immediately saw a need. The chapter offers a college scholarship to local high schoolers, but there was a common problem: They consistently received incomplete applications and students with interview skills that were in need of polishing. Rather than complain about it, she got to work to resolve the issue.

She launched the “Career and College Readiness” initiative with the YMCA to help students prepare for college or the workforce. “They are from underserved areas in D.C., so these kids may not have access to mentors or resources that can teach them these vital skills,” says Jenna.

Volunteers from the Capital Chapter and some of its business partners lend their time and expertise in workshops. They teach attendees about business etiquette, mannerisms and writing, and guide them through writing résumés and prepping for interviews. By the time kids are done, they have a completed résumé and know how to effectively answer 10 of the most asked interview questions.

“We have insight having been there,” says Jenna. “When you see someone in a leadership position at a law firm sharing this information, it brings credibility.”

The YMCA loves the program so much, it keeps asking the chapter to come back for more workshops. The program is now in its third year. “It’s been so rewarding,” she says. “It’s a chance for us to give back to the local communities.”


Jenna also found another role that needs filling within the legal industry — fighting the negative connotations attached to Millennials.

“The feeling about [Millennials] has just gotten really heavy in the last three to four years,” she says. “I’ve never been labeled, but somehow that term was attached to me.” Initially, the negativity was frustrating; she’s never been one for generalizations.

But as a positive person, she decided not to let the clichés and baggage of that generational label get to her. Instead, she’s trying to challenge the biases of the legal industry.

“I own the label now and do what I can to help change the perception. And not with just talk — show people you’ve broken the mold,” she says. “Ask yourself what you can do to improve your brand and then own it.” Personally, she’s sought to show colleagues that there is nothing slacking about her work ethic.

Jenna’s latest Capital Chapter endeavor is to close the leadership gap between generations. She created and chairs a new section within the chapter, the Next Generation Leaders. “We have a large base of Millennials in the chapter. We need to house that creativity and give them a platform to grow in their careers.”

It’s a chance to progress, not just for Millennials but for anyone new to legal management. The group will have meetings, pop-up events, educational sessions and two-way mentoring opportunities. The first meeting was in December — 20 people showed up, proving a definite need and desire for the group.

With many Baby Boomers retiring, she sees an opportunity to bring in seasoned vets and “Google” them — or act as a live, in-person resource for Next Generation Leaders participants. Attendees can use their help with networking, ask them for advice and question them about things they wish they’d done differently in their careers. They’ll “download” this well-informed knowledge and use it accordingly.

“When you’re new to the legal field, you need somewhere to go,” says Jenna. “We’re giving them a platform to build their network and provide them with added confidence in their ability to influence changes at work.” She sees it as two-way mentoring — even long-term legal management professionals can learn from newcomers.

Future meetings will focus on having these early-career professionals build their “adviser toolkit.” They’ll identify how they can boost their experience level more quickly, and they’ll find resources and people — particularly business partners — to turn to for guidance.

“There are many times I’ve looked much smarter in my office because I’ve involved a business partner to find the solution,” says Jenna. Getting next-generation leaders connected with business partners is key, she says, and she plans to reverse the usual roles: instead of having business partners visit the group, she’s working to have the group visit the offices of business partners.

Ultimately, she wants the group to be a resource and to provide ample networking opportunities. “I heard about my current role [at Ropes & Gray] through an ALA colleague who thought of me for the position,” she says. “When someone retires, be the one they think about to fill that position. That’s why I want them to network like their career depends upon it — because it does.”


As Jenna works hard to help Millennials stand out at their workplaces, she also would like older peers to give younger generations of up-and-comers a fair shake — and some understanding.

“You can’t apply generalizations. We are all individual characters. And yes, we’ve had all these opportunities and we grew up with everyone winning and getting a trophy not matter what — but know the fall is that much farther for us because of that,” she says. “We never really hit bottom, so when we do, it’s a shock to us.”

“So help us — we want to learn from you and we need you. Most Millennials will tell you they were told they could president, astronauts, anything. And then boom one day they realize they’re not. That fear of failure is real and it’s often masked by Millennials with over confidence.”

On the flip side, Millennials need to recognize that not everyone grew up like they did, says Jenna; that’s especially true of technology. But it’s another chance for the generations to mentor each other.

“Just give [Millennials] a chance,” she says. “Trust me, you’ll be surprised.”