- Sooner or later millennials are going to be the main workforce in all businesses.
- This, of course, includes the legal business.
- To that end it is important for law firms to not just hire but to invest in and retain millennial attorneys.
- After all, millennial attorneys may soon be the only generation of attorneys law firms have.
As an employer within a law firm, you are more than likely familiar with the millennial generation. You may even have had you first interaction with a millennial attorney.
And sure, while older attorneys in your law firm may frown upon this new crop of “kid attorney,” what with their work demands and perks, etc., but the fact is this: as one workforce in a business is replaced by another younger workforce, and in doing so, becomes the main workforce for at least 20 years, the millennials will sooner than later take over as the dominant workforce.
The problem is, the millennial workforce is not the baby boomer workforce. Baby boomers have (or had) a much different opinion about work than millennials. As the children of World War II-era parents, baby boomers learned to appreciate their job, and showed as much through loyalty and by not making demands of their bosses and companies.
Millennials are the polar opposite. They want perks, work-life balance, and to know their daily toil will result an overall positive social way. And as Law.com states, within the legal world, over 50 percent of lawyers surveyed agreed that the law firm business model is “fundamentally broken.”
Nonetheless, they are optimistic in their ability to change it, with 62 percent agreeing that millennials are transforming law firm policies and culture for the better.
This thought has recently filtered into the mainstream of American law firms, even as we realize that law firms are impossibly slow to change.
The Millennial Shift
The site Thomson Reuters published an article which calls the influx of young legal talent in today’s law firms “The Millennial Shift,” and denotes the new legal workforce from the older legal workforce with these following points:
Yes, that’s the term: The Millennial Shift, which was what Prof. William Henderson at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law called this new legal pattern in a November 4, 2015 article in The New York Times, “Graying Firms Wrestle with Making Room for Young Lawyers.”
But what exactly was he talking about?
The Times thought Henderson was referring to just handing off organizational control. But in reality, what he called the Millennial Shift was much, much more: it was a paradigm shift about how law firms must compete for talent today and what it means for your firm and its clients in the future as millennials move into leadership roles.
In Life, the Only Constant is Change
The next generation of law firm leadership will be millennials. The Millennial Shift is inevitable, and it’s already happening.
The Millennial Shift might worry some who are currently in leadership roles or are shareholders.
You also might believe millennial attorneys are lazy and have little to no work ethic; they are impatient yet unwilling to pay their dues.
Millennial attorneys need to be coddled and receive constant positive reinforcement, or so you might believe.
And you might also believe millennial attorneys are arrogant and too willing to leave one firm for another.
Well, in some cases as the Thomson Reuters article states, you’re correct to believe this, but first some things need to be clarified.
“We are Not so Different, You and I…”
The Millennial Attorney shares the same values as their more experienced counterparts, but with slight modifications.
They, too, value hard work, but not when the work is needlessly hard. They, too, value “paying their dues” and understand its importance, but not at the expense of rewarding talent and innovation.
They also value self-sufficiency and independence, but not when they know they can improve if they had your feedback.
They, too, value their careers and their current firms, but not if their firms fail to show the same commitment to them and their careers.
These slight modifications are what really constitute the Millennial Shift. But these little changes impact several aspects of today’s law firm and will shape the law firm of the future. If your law firm cannot adapt to these changes, the Millennial Shift will be its extinction. It’s as simple as that.
The Happy Associate will be The Associate Who Stays
With that, in the section titled Keeping Associates Happy, Attorney At Work published an article that lists actions you can take to not only appease your new young associates, but more importantly to retain them for a long period of time; a task that other businesses, including law firms, have been horribly deficient in doing.
As the article states, associate turnover at law firms is often as high as 25 percent annually. This is a problem on many levels: It can disrupt productivity and damage client relationships — and it’s expensive.
According to Thomson West, law firm turnover costs the legal industry nearly $1 billion a year. Firms spend time and money onboarding associates, from recruiting to training, and must reinvest again when another associate needs to be hired to replace one that left.
Tactics for Reducing Associate Turnover
How are firms reducing their turnover, especially of millennials and younger lawyers? Firm leadership is focusing on what motivates and inspires millennial lawyers. Here are five of their tactics.
- Create an Engaging Firm Culture
According to legal hiring experts, law firms must create cultures that allow young lawyers to feel supported and engaged, develop skills, connect with mentors, and receive meaningful feedback on a regular basis.
Once the culture is established, the firm must reinforce and reward behaviors that support the culture, to create a community of connectedness between associates, partners and staff.
To create a physical space that contributes to an engaging culture, some firms, like Morrison & Foerster, are offering “lounge-braries” — a hybrid lounge and library where lawyers and staff can work and socialize together.
A lounge-brary houses law books and other law firm reference materials in a lounge-type setting with comfy couches and pillows.
- Humanize Law and Do Good
According to JP Box, author of the ABA book “The Millennial Lawyer: How Your Firm Can Motivate and Retain Young Associates,” millennial lawyers want to make a difference in the world through the practice of law.
Sandra Yamate, CEO of The Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession (IILP), echoes this point: For millennials, the impact they can make through their legal work often matters more than having an important title and a large paycheck.
Law firms are catering to young lawyers’ desires to do good by offering meaningful pro bono work.
In 2018, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, which was named to the National Law Journal’s pro bono hot list, reported 99 percent of its lawyers and 100 percent of its summer associates participated in meaningful pro bono projects.
After all, as Yamate of IILP reminds us, the legal profession is supposed to be about justice for all.
- Support, Mentor and Train
Law firms have learned that they can keep young associates by providing mentoring and training that encourages the lawyers’ enthusiasm for social justice.
For example, Winston & Strawn has “Winston University Development System,” which provides legal skills training programs and practice-specific tools.
It includes professional development opportunities, coaching services, career planning, stress management workshops, and CLE training options.
These kinds of firmwide training and mentoring programs make young lawyers an integral part of the team early in their careers, which is imperative for millennials who want to make a difference right out of the gate.
It also proves to lawyers that their firm cares about their careers and will invest in them.
The support system also offers meaningful and continuous feedback to help young lawyers develop their skills. This includes effective mentoring relationships and regular reviews, which have replaced the old-school annual review as the sole feedback for associates.
Smart firms also offer executive and other types of coaching to help young lawyers define their career goals and path.
For example, Alston & Bird offers its A&BCD Initiative, which provides group coaching to ensure their associates reach their career goals. This kind of coaching is particularly helpful in reducing turnover as it promotes meaningful career success aligned with the associates’ values and strengths.
- Show Flexibility in Workspace and Hours
A number of firms offer flexibility in work location and the option of nontraditional hours.
Lightfoot, Franklin & White, which was named the No. 1 Best Midsize Law Firm to Work For by Vault, is flexible about “when, how or where” its attorneys get the job done and refers to its firm culture as “family-friendly.”
Much in the same way, Orrick offers “Agile Working,” which allows for flexible hours, including job sharing, and flexible location, including working remotely.
Even the Attorney at Work’s author’s law firm, Berlandi, Nussbaum & Reitzas, is a small firm that focuses on entrepreneurial spirit in recruiting and retaining attorneys. Doing so allows for creative lawyering focused on process and results, not billable hours.
In fact, as the article states, reducing focus on the billable hour is often a precursor to flexibility in law firms.
- Allow Flexible Career Paths
Firms like Alston & Bird allow flexibility of timing when it comes to the path to partnership, taking into account the personal lives of their associates to determine when the time is right.
Firms also offer alternative career paths within the firm, other than partnership, for lawyers who don’t want or otherwise cannot achieve partnership.
Roles in HR, professional development, firm business management, and technology are a few of the alternative paths offered. And firms like Lightfoot, Franklin & White allow associates to work in different practice areas so they can experience different kinds of matters and learn additional skills.
Conclusion: Let Associates Be People, Not Just Lawyers
There is more to a good lawyer than their ability to practice law successfully: Lawyers are people outside the office. They have other interests, and those interests contribute to their effectiveness in their legal career.
As Law.com states,
When firms give their associates time to manage their personal lives, they work more efficiently and productively and remain happier in their work. The better balance between work and life significantly reduces turnover.
In the end, this lawyer-focused action is a positive change for any law firm that takes part in this new style of law firm management. The action keeps lawyers focused and happy and involved with their careers, particularly millennial lawyers.
As was said earlier, as generations age and retire, the legal world has no alternative but to hire millennials. They are a workforce no business can ignore or take for granted, including the business of law.