The Millennial Lawyer: A Roadmap to Inspiring the Next Generation of Attorneys

In law firms across the U.S., the term “ Millennial ” can sometimes be cringe-inducing.  Partners lament the job-hopping ways of promising young associates and grow frustrated when their attempts to motivate young attorneys seemingly backfire.

The good news, however, is that law firms can thrive with a committed, hard-working group of Millennials (aged 21 to 36 years old).  By embracing a Millennial-friendly culture, your firm can motivate and retain top-level associates while improving productivity and retention rates along the way.

In years past, law firms banked on a delayed gratification model to keep associates engaged and motivated—that is, the carrot of partnership and all its trappings years down the road.  During the associate tenure, law firms have assumed that a generous paycheck would keep their associates committed.  To that end, many big law firms raised first year pay by 12.5% in 2016, ostensibly to solve the ongoing associate retention riddle.

Unfortunately, such measures fail as consistent motivators for the youngest generation of attorneys.  Study after study reveals that Millennials seek engaging and fulfilling work early in their careers, not the promise of future status and higher pay.

According to a 2010 Pew Research Center analysis, only 15 percent of Millennials consider a high-paying career to be one of the most important things in their lives. Similarly, a 2014 Clark University Poll found that 78 percent of young people believe “it is more important to enjoy their work than to make a lot of money.”  In short, Millennials seek connection, meaning, and fulfillment in their chosen careers.

To be clear, law firms must pay competitive salaries to young associates, but a sizable paycheck alone will not keep young attorneys engaged for the long run, nor will the allure of partnership seven to ten years in the future.  This paradigm shift is actually positive news for law firms.  You have a group of eager young lawyers who desperately want to contribute to your firm in meaningful ways right away.

In order to take advantage of this opportunity, law firms must understand the Millennial mindset.  With Millennials poised to represent nearly half the U.S. workforce by 2020, it is imperative for law firms to recognize commonly held Millennial values.

The Millennial Lawyer provides a roadmap that will help law firms create cultures where everyone—from Boomer and Gen X partners to Millennial associates—works together harmoniously and effectively.  Weaving together personal experiences as a young attorney with the social sciences and consulting research, The Millennial Lawyer demystifies the mindset of this young generation.

In particular, the book offers practical tips on how to embrace commonly held Millennial values within the cultural framework of law firm life.  These values include the following:

  • Embrace work-life blend, and forget about balance. Millennials reject the notion that “life” and “work” are antithetical concepts that must be balanced against each other.  Rather, work should be an enhancing and interesting aspect of life.  We are all better-served if we focus on our joys and responsibilities at work, at home, and at play on a continuous spectrum of life experiences.
  • Focus on the individual contributions of each person on the team, not the job title. Millennials by and large enjoyed peer-like relationships with parents, teachers, and coaches during their upbringing, and therefore they come into the workplace without a strong sense of vertical hierarchy.  Consequently, law firms would be wise to focus on the critical role of each person working on a case, instead of job titles.
  • Be creative in how you challenge your young attorneys to make immediate contributions at your firm (which, after all, is why you hired them!).
  • Focus on the critical role of mentorship to help guide and mold the next generation of attorneys. As the most highly educated and groomed generation in history, Millennials are accustomed to processing feedback and relying upon coaching.  Partner-level mentorship has never been more important.
  • Celebrate teamwork and organize work in a way that allows associates to collaborate with you and each other. Millennials are a collaborative bunch who work best together.
  • Embrace the modern law office as a social center. Millennials highly rate the social aspects of work, and therefore it is critical that your office become a fun, engaging, and lively place to work.
  • Create a culture of doing well by doing good. Millennials overwhelmingly believe that businesses should focus more on their societal impacts.  As counselors of law, we have an incredible opportunity to inspire the next generation of attorneys though the noble practice of law.

According to Thomson West, law firms shell out a billion dollars each year to recruit, train, and develop young attorneys.  If your firm understands how to connect with and motivate young attorneys, then you are well on your way to making a good return on that investment.

So, the next time someone tells you that Millennials “just won’t work hard” or “won’t pay their dues,” remember that the solution may be as easy as understanding what resonates with this young generation.


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