Millennial Lawyers: Understanding What Makes Them Unique

June 26, 2019 4 Corner Resources 4 Corner Resources

In many law firms in Orlando and across the country, the term “millennial attorney” is often used derisively. Partners at mid-size and large firms point to the lack of loyalty and predilection for job-hopping by young associates who are part of the “millennial” cohort.  

A survey conducted by Major, Lindsey & Africa in conjunction with legal news website Above the Law found that 40 percent of millennials surveyed expected to become a partner within the next 10 years, including 27.7 percent who saw themselves making partner at their current firm.

How Millennial Attorneys are Unique

A major survey was recently conducted to gauge the interests, preferences and career outlooks for millennial lawyers, and the results were surprising.  For example, millennial attorneys who participated in the survey rated work-life balance as their top priority and considered it to be the most important factor when evaluating a potential employer. In fact, the survey results showed that 75 percent of respondents would happily exchange a portion of their monetary compensation for either additional time off, a flexible work schedule, or a reduction in mandatory billable hours.

Another way millennial attorneys are different is that they value informal mentorships with more experienced attorneys. More than 60 percent of survey respondents said that an informal mentor has a significant or crucial role in their long-term career trajectory.  

Millennial lawyers also possess a high regard for their impact on the legal profession. For example, approximately 62 percent of survey respondents reported that they are transforming law firm policies and culture for the better. Millennial lawyers are also extremely confident. For example, 70 percent felt certain that they would achieve their 10-year career goals.

Millennials Not Afraid to Highlight Problems in the Legal Profession

Millennial lawyers are not afraid to place a spotlight on various issues within the practice of law. For example, more than 50 percent of respondents agreed that the typical law firm business model is “fundamentally broken.”

There were also noteworthy responses to questions concerning law firm culture and gender equality. For example, approximately 45 percent of female respondents strongly agreed that law firm culture is sexist (this was in stark contrast to just 14 percent of millennial male attorneys who agreed with this statement). More than 56 percent of millennial women also strongly agreed that there was a pay gap between male attorneys and female attorneys (while less than 20 percent of male attorneys agreed with this statement).  Whether there is a definitive problem or not, we have to agree that the perception is there!

How Law Firms Can Thrive with Millennial Attorneys

It is true that millennial lawyers have a unique set of traits and preferences that set them apart from past legal practitioners. Nevertheless, law firms in Florida and across the country should have confidence in the notion that they can thrive with a dedicated, hard-working group of millennial lawyers. This can be accomplished by embracing a “millennial-friendly” office culture. For example, law firms should strongly consider how to improve ways to reward loyalty. The aforementioned survey indicated that while approximately 70 percent of millennial attorneys described themselves as loyal, more than 75 percent also admitted that they were either open to a new job opportunity or actively seeking a new job.  

This presents a unique challenge to many law firms with established partner tracks. Why? Because in years’ past, law firms relied on a system predicated on delayed gratification. Essentially the old way (and in many cases, still the current way) of thinking is that, young associates should put their heads down and work tirelessly for years, and then it will all be worth it when they eventually make partner. That dangling carrot of firm partnership was long-considered the key to retaining a talented group of young associates.  However, multiple studies have shown that millennial lawyers are not on board with the delayed gratification model. Many millennial attorneys are seeking both engaging and fulfilling work early in their careers, rather than the promise of future status and more generous compensation.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that only 15 percent of millennial lawyers consider a high-paying job to be one of the most important things in their lives. Similarly, a recently conducted Clark University Poll revealed that close to 80 percent of young individuals believe that enjoying their work is more important than simply being paid a large sum of money.  

The takeaway is that many millennial lawyers value connection, meaning, and fulfillment in their legal career, and law firms should take note.  

To be clear, law firms still need to compensate young associates appropriately, but the overall size of the paycheck will likely not be enough to keep young attorneys engaged in the long-term, and the allure of firm partnership being available within seven or ten years is quickly losing its luster.   

Changing Priorities is a Benefit for Law Firms

The paradigm shift described above is actually a great development for many law firms in Florida and across the country. Why? Because you now have a group of talented and motivated young lawyers who want to contribute and make an impact on the firm in meaningful ways right away.

In order to take advantage of this opportunity, law firms should consider offering more meaningful and substantive legal assignments to newer associates. They should also ensure that established partners are actively working with, and grooming, new associates by cultivating a sense of connection and highlighting the larger purpose of the firm’s work.   

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