Law firms and corporate law departments may need to reshape their cultures and traditional hierarchies in order to more successfully recruit and retain millennial attorneys.

As the largest single generation employed today, millennials are bringing significantly different values and expectations to the workplace than Baby Boomers or Generation Xers, and are transforming both organizational cultures and how work gets done.

Born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, millennials tend to be more tech savvy, socially conscious and team-oriented than previous generations.

In the workplace, millennials as whole are skeptical of the motivations and ethics of businesses; seek greater work/life flexibility; and are attracted to companies that foster inclusiveness, employee development, and flatter organizational structures, according to a widely-cited 2018 study by Deloitte.

The Millennial Age is well underway in the legal industry, with millennials now accounting for 43 percent of attorneys in the U.S. and they most likely will comprise over 50 percent of attorneys by 2025.

The influx of millennial lawyers poises several significant challenges for law firms and corporate law departments, such as how to provide effective mentoring, succession planning, new reporting structures, and even how to allocate office space. But perhaps no issue is more important than retention.

Millennials as a whole change jobs more frequently than previous generations – and it’s no different in the legal industry. Forty-four percent of associates leave their firms within three years, a turnover rate that may be as high as it’s ever been, according to some legal experts.

The costs of high turnover are enormous: lost revenue from a drop in billable hours, hundreds of hours in training and development gone to waste and damage to client relationships.

While the reasons for departures vary, it’s clear the lack of work/life balance and intense and unpredictable time demands required of associates at many law firms contribute to the high turnover.

Though in-house legal departments are generally perceived to afford attorneys a more favorable work/life balance, companies with bureaucratic organizational hierarchies or who lack an emphasis on corporate social responsibility can be at risk of alienating millennial legal talent as well.

What can your firm or in-house legal department do to provide an environment that will help you to recruit and retain talented millennial lawyers?

  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Given that technology makes it possible to work from anywhere, many millennials consider regular office hours unnecessary. A company should provide clear goals and deadlines but allow millennials to get the work done in their own way and on their own schedule, including affording them the ability to work from home when needed.
  • Latest Technology: Millennials will not tolerate working in a firm that fails to utilize technology effectively. Amazingly, some older lawyers still use WordPerfect. Not only will cutting edge technology make your firm or department more efficient and give you a competitive advantage – it will also help you to recruit and retain young, technologically-savvy attorneys.
  • Engaging Work: What motivates millennials the most? Meaningful work experiences that connect with the client, contribute to a tangible outcome and help them to grow and develop.
  • Mentorship: Millennials place a high value on mentorship and constructive feedback. Train partners and senior attorneys to be better coaches to young attorneys. If a mentorship relationship is not working, assign a new mentor.
  • Collaboration: Place millennials on teams so they can work with more senior attorneys on important projects and participate in strategy development, tactical planning and client meetings.
  • Flatter hierarchy: Move away from a command-and-control organizational structure to a flatter hierarchy with less middle management and bureaucracy. Create an open space office environment rather than emphasizing private offices.
  • Encourage volunteerism: Allow attorneys to exchange billable hours for pro bono work or other volunteer work that utilizes their legal skills.
  • Create a more diverse firm: Most millennials value diversity in law and diversity in the legal profession. They want to work in an organization that reflects all of society.

By engaging millennials in the workplace, law firms and corporate law departments will be positioned to recruit and retain top talent and outperform their competitors.

Authored by: Michael Lyles


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