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Legally Millennial

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Summary: Millennials have now become part of the legal landscape. What have you done within your law firm culture to prepare for their arrival?

Legally Millennial
 
  • Facts are facts: The millennial generation of lawyers are taking over the legal world at this very moment.
  • So the question remains, are you and your law firm culture ready for their type of “legal practice?”

The only true constant in life is change. Change occurs all the time. And it occurs in nearly every facet of our lives.
 
  • If our wardrobe goes out of style, it’s time to replace it.
  • Fighting with your boyfriend is getting real old hat; time to replace him.
  • Your old jalopy is on its last legs (well…wheels). Newer, more efficient and fresher automobiles are out there. Maybe it’s time you entertain purchasing one.

In law firms, we know change occurs mostly when someone new takes over the space where someone older had previously belonged. Chalk this up to a lawyer’s:
 
  • Retirement
  • Curtailment of clients
  • Focus on something else within the firm other than practicing law
  • An inability to effectively complete a legal task for reasons that can range from:
    • Exhaustion – in short, been there done that thousands of times
    • An inability to understand who or what the client is.

Enter the millennial lawyer. He or she represents the new heartbeat of your firm, but one that comes from a place that might be completely foreign to anything you’ve experienced before in a legal atmosphere.

Well, here’s the situation: Your firm is getting old, just are its clients. But your firm has to continue because your clients have kids, or in some cases, grandkids. The family has moved on into endeavors that might not make sense or seem clear to you, yet even so, they still need the legal advice their parents and grandparents have come to expect.

And who better to understand that (and them) than the millennial lawyer?

No, you may not like their hipster attitude, their take on what fairness is, their politics or their demand for amenities such as a better work-life balance in regard to their careers.

The problem is you are going to have to like them, whether you want to or not. You see, the millennial lawyers are all you have right now to represent your clients. So for that reason, you may as well open your eyes, steel your spine and get ready for their arrival.

Because they’re coming, and quite frankly, there’s no other generation at the moment that can be entrusted to represent both clients and the law firm.

So resign yourself. Or better yet, educate yourself about the millennial lawyer.

Millennial lawyers: Who are these young and decided legal pros?

Granted, the millennial generation has been bucked fairly hard, particularly by older generations such as Baby Boomers.

Demanding, flaky, self-absorbed, unreliable, not serious – these are only a few of the descriptors used to put the working millennial in his or her place.

The problem, however, is that the preceding words can’t really be applied to the entire millennial workforce, especially in law. Law is an acutely serious and extremely demanding profession with almost as demanding a mandatory education process needed for one to be able to call themselves a lawyer.

In short, law school is supposed to weed out the wannabes who don’t want to put in the serious work efforts needed to become a lawyer.

Fakers will fake interest, and sooner or later, be revealed in incomplete assignments, sloppy work, and poor preparation – all of this happening in law school.

And if law school doesn’t reveal the lack of commitment in these so-called law students, a summer clerkship or internship certainly will.

But that goes for what really must be a small contingent of millennials who hope to one day practice law as a career.

Lauren Stiller Rikleen is decidedly one of the best and most devoted advocates a millennial attorney can have in this climate change of law firm culture.

As Rikleen, who penned a book about the millennial vs. old school law scenario called You Raised Us, Now Work With Us, states in her defense of millennials, “The stereotypes don’t match up with my experience as a lawyer and as a mother of two millennials,” she says. “I’ve never understood the constant negative refrain.”

Rikleen found herself so baffled by the disconnect, that along with her book, she launched a second career that focuses on how different generations can effectively work together. In short, she investigates and unravels common myths about 20- and 30-somethings and offers practical advice on how to bridge generation gaps. What Rikleen found during her investigations is that while millennials are continually charged with heavy workloads as well as tackling a variety of problems within a law firm, as a group, millennials are neither entitled nor lazy.

This, fortunately, has not gone unnoticed. As younger attorneys flood the workforce and begin replacing the retiring baby boomer ranks, even the most conservative law firms are realizing the need to reshape corporate culture and embrace millennials’ tech-savvy, self-confident and flexible point of view. Rikleen cites that older lawyers are realizing younger attorneys won’t accept the rigid hierarchies and old-fashioned processes that defined their own careers.

The downside is millennials won’t receive the same high hourly rates that clients formerly paid for legal representation.

With these changes, experts say firms may need to invest time and resources in helping a multigenerational workforce interact effectively.
 
Talent + Choice = “Bye-Byes”

If you read Unlocking the Talents of the Millennial Lawyer, JP Box’s first-person account about being a millennial lawyer, one notion that jumps off the page is the fact millennials, no matter what profession they first apply themselves to, have choices. Or at least they think they have choices.

Within law firms, those choices seem to come from an equation of one part inquisitiveness, another part belonging (as in does the culture within this law firm suit me?), and one last part freedom. In short, millennials think of themselves as free to leave a well-paying associate attorney’s job at what seems to be the drop of a hat.

In Box’s case, he worked at a remarkable three law firms in six years, whereas when he worked for a large, prestigious international law firm in Washington, DC, and two well-respected firms in Denver, Colorado, Box never stayed at any one of these firms for longer than two years.

To be honest, this is unheard of.

After all, in this day and age of sketchy businesses (law firms included), an impacted career field, which law is, and the ever-growing issue of law school debt most law students incur once they graduate, any lasting job in which partners beg young attorneys to stay, and please, please, please do not move on to somewhere else, would be gold to that attorney.

If they stay, they are more likely guaranteed to:
 
  1. Pay off that student debt.
  2. Begin compiling a strong book of clients.
  3. Further gain the trust and reliance of senior partners.
  4. Be well on their way toward becoming a partner.

Yet, according to Box, his path, which seems to be a common thread within the millennial lawyer (and worker in general) psyche, eradicating student debt, assembling books of business, trust and reliance throughout the law firm along with a promise that the young attorney is on track to be partner, does not coincide with who the millennial lawyer is.

While Box finally settled into the business of kids’ apparel by co-founding Chasing Windmills, Box, like many millennials, seems to have needed to go on a personal journey of sorts before finding what he really wanted to do, which was not practice law.

So how should law firms react to this and other millennials who use their law degrees, their legal education, and their legal careers to keep the revolving door to spin them in and out of law firms?

Simple, you first realize that not all millennial attorneys are like JP Box or other millennials in other professions.

You see:
 
  • Millennials have choices: They understand their importance as a workforce. But at the same time, millennials also realize that theirs is a journey of sorts, in which the perfect career is somewhere out there, especially if it were conducted in an entrepreneurial spirit. The saving grace about this is not all millennials are wandering spirits looking for career fulfillment.
  • Most millennial attorneys have spent their entire adult life aspiring to work within a big, well-regarded law firm. This is what they’ve been built for, and they will be very keen to show you and your Baby Boomer hiring partners exactly that.
  • Millennial attorneys realize their part: Millennial attorneys may not exactly be pure of soul, but from growing up within the digital shadows of social media, they do have a strong understanding of people, opinions, and what’s right from wrong. To that end, millennial attorneys want to help. They want to be part of a crusade whose objective is fairness by way of fair representation. In short, as opposed to Baby Boomers hoping or at worst, claiming to know the changing world, millennials are the changing world. So who better to represent that world than millennials.
  • And lastly, they’re much hipper than you are because they are younger, they do have technology (like Facebook, Twitter, forums, and such) under their thumb, and with that, an acute uptick in modern knowledge and culture that no Boomer can hope to approach.
  • And why is the millennial knowledge so much more valuable than Boomer knowledge? Easy, because the millennials, especially those with money who need elite legal care, have begun to amass an enormous amount of influence, both monetarily and socially, on our economy as well as our way of life.
  • Therefore, in the future, it will be the millennials who law firms represent, right? Correct, and to that end, who better to represent millennials other than…well…millennials?
 
They’re not as bad as you think.

The one issue that tends to be overlooked by those critical of millennials, particularly Baby Boomers, is the simple fact that if millennials don’t seem mature or dedicated now, they eventually will be in a few years’ time.

This is because, in a few years’ time, those millennials may be married, will have started families, and taken on mortgages and car payments in addition to the debt they already have due to law school.

At this point, millennials realize the importance of having good, solid employment, and that in the case of being respected and trusted, very few older attorneys will soon be able to compete against them for a position within a top law firm.

Conclusion

It’s safe to say that you can trust your normal, everyday millennial that’s just out of law school. In some ways, stories like JP Box’s tome about leaving the law firm life to start a children’s clothing line has a lot of good stuff going for it.

It’s a journey to one’s calling which is romantic and fulfilling. But the majority of any human generation are not that entrepreneurial. And if anything, it doesn’t take them going to law school and three successive AmLaw jobs to figure they should be on a different path.

Conversely, good solid law students are out there. Once they graduate, they will remain deeply dedicated to the practice of law. Sure, they know the social value of owning a coffee house or novelty shop; the human importance of starting up a doggy daycare or a dance studio; or the self-importance to net a job that in return treats the person who takes the job fairly between work and life.

For the rest of us, millennials are more-or-less like the rest of us. They show up to work and propose to make a good day of their tasks. They want and plan to succeed, helping both the law firm and the clients the law firm represents as best they can.

Now tell me, can you find a better worker than that? No, in this day in age, you honestly can’t.

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