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How Can Millennials Save Your Law Firm?


Summary: Law firms from now and on into the future will have to learn how to deal with the upcoming crop of millennial lawyers.

How Can Millennials Save Your Law Firm?
  • When they were young, the millennial generation was scorned as a failed workforce.
  • Wanting things their way, they rocked the working world, law firms included, with work-life demands and sketchy employee retention rates.
  • The millennials, however, have either grown or are now growing up, and with that, becoming more responsible about their work ethic.
  • This is why many businesses, including law firms, see advantages in hiring millennials.
What were millennials then?

Do you remember those kids from say…2002 ‘til about 2014 or so? The ones who seemed to think the world revolved around them? They were jaded, leery, skeptical. But most of all these kids, called millennials, were decided.

You couldn’t convince them of anything. They had their minds made up about school, relationships, and the establishment of a stable life. In fact it was that word, establishment that always seemed to rattle their cage. As far as establishment went, millennials wanted no part of it. They wanted to live their own lives up to their own expectations, and no one else’s.

But who could blame them?

Honestly, who could blame the millennials for their attitude? What, after watching elders such as their parents lose their minds over the 2008 recession, why would anyone fault them for their attitude?

Dad and Mom works tirelessly only for everything they owned and invested in to go up in smoke. Meanwhile Grandpa and Grandma have to move in because they lost their shirts too. Now the house is cramped and the collective attitude is sour if not worrisome.

With all they’ve witnessed, it’s no wonder the millennial has emerged as such a difficult age group to deal with:
  • Higher education had no value
  • All authority was bad
  • Marriage and having a family was overrated
  • Good paying careers, like law, was a waste of time.

Millennials then were a problem group, and a workplace poison. Just the very mention of the word had the normally poker-faced HR representative rolling their eyes and clicking their tongue.

This, of course, was because millennials were our next workforce. Yes, in all aspects of the job market, they are the ones to replace the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers once they fade out into retirement.

Of course this notion that they were next left many HR people within many established businesses face-palming themselves. Yet there were other more enlightened HR individuals, businesses and law firms that realized not just the value of millennials, but the fact that millennials was all anyone had to continue an establishment. In essence, with the current workforce getting on in years, what choice was there?

Whether a doctor’s office, a factory, a department store chain or a law firm, the emerging millennial workforce was all any of these businesses had, and for that, the smart establishments met the millennial demands that led Forbes to publish The 25 Most Promising Jobs for Millennials. Listed in the article as a major millennial requirement of a workplace was a fair work-life balance, which for many of the generation was more important than their salary. Millennials also demanded strong collaborative environments, creative efforts, and as important, work that would influence social change.

And what did the millennials give in return to these businesses desperate for new blood: A promise to not quit.
What law firms might look like to the millennial mind and heart.

There can be many reasons why law firms and millennial mindsets don’t mesh. Law firms can be stodgy older establishments run by aged attorneys who beyond themselves care little about the world around them.

As for millennials, they soon would be disheartened to know that the main concern most of these older lawyers have involves billable hours and how much money they can get out of a client.

Then, of course, there is the work-life balance which everyone understands is nonexistent in the 60-hour workweek of today’s (or any day’s) law firm. And as far as affecting social change, well that continues to not even exist as an afterthought in many established law firms.

In short, everything about law firms as well as the entire legal universe, cut against the millennial grain. This resulted in law coming in nowhere close to a top favorite career choice for this age group, which like many businesses at the time, consequently put the law firm’s future in peril, leaving the firm lawyer-less and with that, penniless.
What millennials are now and may soon become.

According to Hannah Ewens of Vice, if you are a millennial, you don’t want to become this type of millennial:

A single 43-year-old burdened with mental-health issues, living in a shoebox apartment that costs $2,500 a month, scrolling obsessively through Tinder, and tweeting about the latest Palace drop to an audience of desperately lonely peers.

Granted, millennials have enough trouble as it is. Much of their income goes to housing, career paths are jumbled up secondary roads that eventually lead to depressingly inconsequential career jobs. They drink, smoke pot, eat crappy food and play videogames day and night.

So much for affecting social change.

To be sure, anyone could have seen this coming within a generation that literally refutes everything of any importance generations before them lauded and respected. So much that was so critical to older age groups, never registered a single care in the millennial psyche.

Fortunately for some, there were and are more responsible subsets within the millennial generations:
  • Some millennials, particularly ones who are not American, understand the opportunities before them in education and career. They take their formidable years seriously and stay on a path to success by finishing school, then securing themselves with strong careers.  
  • Another type of millennial is the one who has simply grown out of the BS lifestyle of nonconformity. They’ve become adults who fortunately had their heads screwed on straight since they were in their teens. They realized being a social outcast was not as much prophetic as it was pathetic, and at that point, buckled down in school and their careers. They have married. They have made investments in their abilities which has paid off with homes and families. These and the millennials described above are the ones you want for your law firm.

Sure, many of these good millennials may still have the ideals of what the entire generation is about; which in lieu of our currently fractured society is a very good thing.

Strong beliefs in equality, diversity, social impact, and work-life balance are the good qualities of the millennial generation, and for that the characteristics that should be cherished within their group. These beliefs are also what will now and in the future push major corporations, law firms included, to the top of their game.

In short, not all millennials are alike. Some are actually beneficial to a business.
How millennials can save your law firm.

So you’ve concluded you do need them. After all, they’re the first crop of graduates to come out of law school just when retirement is sniffing up your older attorneys. Either way, you really don’t have a choice; you have to hire these youngish 20 to 30-year-old-lawyers who supposedly are nightmares to deal with in any professional situation.

In Millennials Won’t Destroy Your Law Firm. Can They Save It? author Lizzy McLellan states that of late, law firms have been wringing their hands in wonderment about how to deal with the millennial lawyer. Some firms even ask why they should deal with this generation in the first place. The answer is simple: If a law firm still clings to traditional models for training associates and running the partnership, then that law firm has already fallen behind.

McLellan states doubtful law firms need to wake up to the fact that the millennials are here, they’re climbing the ranks, and they’ve already begun to transform the industry.

But she also stresses that in all actuality, this is good news. A decade after the Great Recession highlighted the legal industry’s weaknesses many law firms now recognize the need for new strategies. And for those that get this generation right, the changes they embrace may be key to success in a new era of legal services.

As the article cites, millennials, with all their generational quirks, are actively working their way up in the legal industry at the same time that many law firms face critical decisions about how to stay relevant in a greater more diverse economy and society.

Additionally, millennial lawyers know and understand other millennial business leaders in sectors such as the tech industry; hence businesses that could one day be new clients. With this in mind, it’s no surprise law firm leaders are now paying greater attention to this generation.

For example many firms have implemented remote working programs, which is a large part of the work-life relationship millennials desire in their careers. Other firms are redecorating – literally. They have remodeled or completely overhauled their physical workplaces with millennials in mind, favoring common areas, for example, over large corner offices. In other cases, law firms have moved to newer areas to appease the millennials’ desire for hipper work atmospheres.

As far as the business of law is concerned, firms have begun to actively involve younger lawyers in strategic planning and pitching business ideas. Some firms have even added millennial partners to their management committees.
A new approach.

Law firms have long since found that trying to make millennial lawyers fit in the traditional law firm model is the wrong approach to hiring and retaining their talent. On the other hand, law firms that accept millennials for who they are and work with their tendencies and preferences, instead of against them, are the legal establishments who successfully onboard this age group.

These are smart law firms because they realize with Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) largely on the brink of retirement, law firms are about to experience a major leadership vacuum, which Gen Xers (born 1965 to early 1980s) alone will be unable to fill.

In support of this, The Pew Research Center found that in 2015, there were around 75 million millennials and 75 million Baby Boomers, but only 66 million Gen Xers. This alone is one of the most compelling reasons to hire millennials as once again, there may soon be no one else to hire.
As it is, millennials may change law firms for the better.

McLellan’s article suggests that in the long run, the influence millennials will have within law firms could be a very good thing.

For instance, law firms are slow-moving entities. They stick to tradition almost to a fault as some law firms feel they do not need to advance themselves in the way other businesses have.

This is particularly true after the 2008 recession: While other companies streamlined as well as adjusted how and from where they gain their profits, law firms continued their process of billing clients at high margins without giving consideration to their clients’ post-recession financial situation.

At the same time, these firms’ clients began to cut back on their legal spending which further put law firms in a financial bind. In other words, large law firms simply did not keep pace with the economy, which many attorneys cite is due to years of complacency.

McLellan’s article suggests that a law firm’s billable hours and long-standing partner compensation schemes have been the hallmarks of traditional law firm business models. Yet at the same time, those same practices have made law firms inefficient in today’s business market.

Millennials, on the other hand, are less concerned with billable hours or partner compensation. They are more willing to collaborate with other attorneys instead of taking the entirety of a client’s needs and consequentially, what those needs will pay in return.

Yes, it’s a new way of thinking, but it’s a way of thinking that goes far beyond today’s legal practice to infiltrate nearly every aspect of today’s lifestyle of tomorrow’s leaders.
In conclusion.

It seems as if the same old affliction has once again taken a large bite out of big established law firms: That is an inability to mesh with changing times.

Whether it’s issues with diversity, the new financial climate, or a lack of trust of or even recognition of a new generation of lawyers, traditional law firms need to wake up and alter who they are today to who they will need to be in the future. Until that occurs within all traditional law firms, these firms will lose their socio-economic relevance and as a consequence become extinct within the legal practice.

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