How to Attract, Retain, and Value Millennial Lawyers

27 February 2018

Jon Robinson

By now, most of us know that millennial-bashing is misguided. Stereotypes about millennials have become trite, especially with the emergence of research that directly conflicts with views that millennials are negative, entitled, flighty, and lack a strong work ethic. It turns out that as a group they are by and large optimistic about the future, increasingly loyal to employers, and hustle hard.

Many companies have come to see millennials as the best workers. But traditional motivators in the legal industry required to attract and retain talent in the past – namely large financial rewards – are not as effective with this generation.

You want your business to be as optimal as possible – that means putting time, thought, and care not only into which tools and software you adopt, but also your people. Here’s how to  understand and retain the mightiest segment of your workforce.

What Does Millennial Even Mean?

The millennial generation, according to The Pew Research Center, includes those born between 1981 and 1997.

Although there’s no way to reduce an entire generation of individuals to a few characteristics, certain trends have emerged from the large number of studies and surveys conducted on millennials. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study, millennials are committed to personal learning and development, care about maintaining a work/life balance, and look for strong diversity policies from employers.

Deloitte published a landmark survey of millennials in 2014 which painted a picture of the group as highly motivated with a social conscience.

When it comes to choosing employers, they value ethics, seek innovation, and desire opportunity. More than half of respondents wanted to work for a business that emphasized ethics and thought organizations could do more to develop future leaders.

They believe a business “should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance,” and should work to improve society. Millennials donate to charity and volunteer in their communities. Because they came up in the financial recession, they are weary of the financial sector and more likely to take jobs that translate into social good.

Millennials are also the first “digital natives;” almost 80% named innovation as an influential factor in their decision to take a job.

Valuable 1000x Over

Every generation has been molded by the historical and social movements they grew up in. So what makes millennials a special asset to law firms?

For one, it’s a sheer numbers game. Millennials make up the largest percentage of the workforce in the U.S, a percentage that’s expected to reach 75% by 2025 according to The Brookings Institute.

Additionally, they have relatively less work experience, which breeds innovation. A fresh perspective will often result in questioning tried methods. A combination of millennials’ fresh eyes, tech-savviness and open-mindedness can translate to better client service and higher profits.

The problem is – millennials are harder to hold onto. Making partner is now a longer process and a much riskier one with fewer associates at big firms. Plus, millennials are not afraid to put their personal goals and beliefs above organizational ones.

This is especially worrisome to firms that invest heavily in recruiting and training young lawyers who are not scared to make lateral moves after only one year. According to another survey by Deloitte, during the next year “one in four millennials will quit his or her current employer to join a new organization or to do something different.”

So how to court millennials? Make cultural changes.

Rules for Retaining Millennial Lawyers

Frequent Feedback: Millennials thrive on continual feedback and honest dialogue. They require a space to be heard and opportunities for participation. Firms or companies that foster inclusiveness and make sure to give individual employers – at every level – a voice will win over millennials.

Be Open to Alternative Paths: Honest dialogue with millennials may mean being frank about non-traditional career paths. With fewer partner positions available, and an increased interest in putting law degrees to work in other industries, being open to alternative next steps for your employees could help you keep a millennial lawyer longer and keep doors open for referral business even if they leave.

 

Embrace Tech: Being open to innovation and early adoption of technology are two surefire ways to attract and retain the interest of millennial lawyers. New technologies are not only important for your business in a macro sense, but also on a micro level, so be open to solutions that make your lawyers’ day to day lives easier.  Millennials want to leverage technology to solve problems, which may mean figuring out a way to let them use personal devices (with a secure IT plan in place) or introduce new time-saving apps they can use to collaborate within the workplace.

Flex Your Flexibility: Millennials are mobile; they are not bound by the confines of the traditional workplace, but that often means they’re also always connected. Flexibility is one of the most resonant things employers can offer millennials. That may mean giving young lawyers the ability to work remote a couple of times a week, or even embracing an alternative outlook to payment, like swapping out billable hours for alternative fee arrangements that prioritize efficiency over time spent at the desk. Furthermore, it could mean updating policies like parental leave or vacation time to be more flexible.

 

Emphasize and Value Diversity: Millennials are the most ethnically diverse group in the country. Therefore, they put a bigger emphasis on diversity in the workplace than any group before them. They value employers who not only put diversity policies in place, but act on them and actively hire women and minorities.

Provide Stability: It may seem contrary to the common view we have of millennials, but millennials actually crave stability.  According to Ru Bhatt, a managing director at the talent agency, Major, Lindsey & Africa, having a predictable schedule allows them to plan vacations and make the personal plans necessary to nurture the balance they seek in family, friends and health.

Be Charitable: Winning over millennials may be as simple as exhibiting a genuine desire to help your community and actively giving back. Firms that donate money, have volunteer programs in place, and offer pro bono work are enticing to millennial lawyers who want their work to be meaningful and want to feel they are making a large-scale impact on the world.

More than half of all partners in 2016 were 52 or older. But, although it may take decades for a complete transfer of power in the legal industry, law firm leaders today should see the courting of millennials as succession planning. Instead of thinking of how to retain these employees as “millennial management,” or transforming practices as “meeting millennial demands,” the value of this group and the positive impact they can have on clients, business, and the bottom line should be recognized. Understanding the nuances of your employees’ psyche is important at any moment in time and just as necessary as understanding and adapting to evolving technologies.

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