Millennials — generally defined as those born after 1980 — now account for the largest segment of today’s workforce, making up more than one-third of those employed, overall, and 21.5% of those employed in the legal profession, surpassing both the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964), and Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1976). Not surprisingly, Millennials also make up the fastest-growing generation of consumers the marketplace.
As the wave of Baby Boomer attorneys move closer and closer to retirement, Millennials are poised to play a critical role in the future of the legal profession, including their working to support the Boomers as life expectancy continues to increase. Millennials’ expectations, thought processes and preferences do not reflect those of the Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers they are replacing. As a result, these older generations will have to adjust to successfully recruit and retain these attorneys. They will have to accept the fact that the conventional strategies and approaches they have become comfortable with will be challenged.
Three factors that set apart one generation from another are how each view parenting, technology and economics.
Entrepreneurs and Technology
Millennials tend to be entrepreneurial and risk takers. In the workplace, that means they are quite comfortable job hopping, which can be worrisome for law firms that often make significant investments in their younger attorneys. Fortunately, you can reduce the risk of losing good associates by appealing to their desires as employees.
For starters, your firm must be up to date with technology. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with the Internet, and they came of age as social media was taking off. Staying current with technological developments will help attract and retain these attorneys and can also help you attract Millennial clients.
Collaboration and Flexibility
Millennials also value flexible and collaborative workplace cultures. Some law firms have responded by providing open spaces where attorneys can work alongside each other on their laptops and mobile devices. Enabling lawyers to telecommute or perform remote work is also becoming more common.
The desire for flexibility is closely tied to the expectation of a good work/life balance. The idea may be anathema to older attorneys who “paid their dues” as associates with 80-hour work weeks and who still spend much of their “off-hours” time with clients. However, Millennials — both male and female — expect to have time for family, leisure and volunteering activities. They might not even aspire to become partners, in part because of the lifestyle traditionally associated with partnership-track positions. However, do not make the mistake of thinking Millennials are not hard workers. Many are accomplished high achievers who plan to stay that way.
Mentors and Charitable Interests
While they resist hierarchical or authoritarian structures, Millennials also crave feedback and mentoring. The traditional annual or semiannual performance review may not be enough for attorneys accustomed to constant validation.
Many younger attorneys are looking for frequent and specific feedback from their older colleagues, whether through evaluations, peer review or one-on-one meetings with their supervising attorneys. And, research has shown that Millennials consider mentoring as integral to success — so much so that those with mentors are more than twice as likely to stay with their employers. Professional development and training are important, too. These lawyers are not interested in being micromanaged, but they welcome solid training.
Finally, Millennials look for organizations where the work is about more than just profitability. They seek firms whose missions include a greater good than hefty partner distributions. Your firm therefore, needs to keep younger attorneys informed about pro bono work opportunities and other firm initiatives to give back to the community.
Do or Die
Attorneys from older generations might at first be reluctant to make the changes necessary to attract and hold onto Millennial attorneys. However, as the Baby Boomer generation used to say, “The times they are a-changing.” Firms that do not change with them are likely to find themselves without the talent they need to survive and flourish.