20/3/2017 by Katherine Memery
Millennials are transforming the corporate landscape. According to Deloitte, this age-group (those born between 1982 and 2000), will make up three-quarters of the global workforce by 2025.
Compared with older lawyers, millennials, also known as Generation Y, have starkly different expectations about work and money. They’re less motivated by the promise of high pay or partnership but instead want to actively manage their time and workload. They’re also more inclined to work collaboratively on meaningful projects that clearly benefit the business.
Keeping junior lawyers engaged can be challenging for traditional law firms, especially those that continue to rely on conventional working practices. Attracting and retaining the best millennial talent is crucial to the future success of a law firm. If they are to encourage innovation and maximise profits, it’s essential that lawyers understand the group characteristics and values of millennial employees.
The mobility challenge
One of the most significant challenges facing law firms is that millennials do not feel the same loyalty towards their employer as older generations. Approximately one-third of Generation Y plan to stay with their present company for more than 5 years, with many intending to leave their job if they do not receive sufficient personal benefit or growth.
It’s true that some millennial lawyers at least are less afraid than their more mature colleagues to change jobs. However, as a result of the nature of the profession, compared to those within their age group generally, young lawyers are more risk-averse and therefore less likely to move. Despite this it has become more common for solicitors to make lateral career moves; attrition rates for those with 1-3 PQE are higher than any other PQE group.
When looking for a new role, millennials want to work for a firm with a culture and values that closely align with their own. Because multiple moves are not practical for a solicitor, it’s essential that the firm they choose is a strong cultural fit.
Employer branding is increasingly recognised as a crucial component in ensuring that firms engage and retain the best talent. To stand out as the ‘employer of choice’, firms must now emphasise the employment benefits they offer through the creation of a powerful employer brand.
Lawyers want to be proud of the firm they work for, but above all, proud of its ethos. In terms of engaging existing employees, strong employer branding helps to foster feelings of trust and staff loyalty.
If attrition is an issue, firms must consider what is attracting young lawyers to their more successful competitors and make changes to their offering as an employer. Many firms are reaching out to millennial candidates using social media to showcase their working culture. However, this tactic has primarily been employed to appeal to undergraduates or aspiring trainees; generally, firms have slower to use platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn to capture the attention of junior associates.
Young lawyers appreciate feedback and ongoing support and want to understand how their work affects the bigger picture. Many view the annual performance appraisal as outdated and unhelpful, and, instead, have a preference for real-time feedback.
For this age group, who have become accustomed to regular validation in the form of likes or retweets on social media, regular comments on their performance through effective verbal communication are, understandably, important.
Training and progression
The promise of partnership is no longer the main attraction for many junior lawyers. Learning and development opportunities along with the chance to work on more challenging cases can be nearly as attractive as high salaries and impressive job titles. Whereas 20 years ago, there was a stigma attached to not achieving partnership, for many young lawyers, a straight-line career path from trainee to partner simply doesn’t fit their long-term career and personal goals.
Despite this, millennial lawyers are in a greater hurry to advance than their older colleagues. Tired with the archaic, hierarchical structure common in private practice, solicitors from Generation Y welcome career progression, growth and opportunities to learn new skills or work in different locations. Firms investing time in NQ training, introducing coaching or mentoring programmes or offering internal or external secondments will be highly regarded by the new generation of lawyers.
Increasingly, young solicitors are re-entering the jobs market because of lack of opportunity in their preferred practice area. Giving lawyers the chance to work in different departments or even in international offices can also help to retain millennial talent.
Generation Y prize flexible working more than any other generation. Millennial lawyers want flexibility in terms of how and when they work and are less willing to adopt an exhausting, less productive, culture of long working hours and poor work-life balance. The heavy demands on individuals can lead to lawyers leaving the sector early and deter people from entering the profession.
The gig economy, if perhaps unfairly represented by companies like Deliveroo and Uber, is nevertheless here to stay. Millennials don’t believe in 9-to-5 but instead, value the opportunity to work from home or a co-working space. In fact, many young lawyers are prepared to accept a pay cut to secure a better work-life balance and enhance their health, well-being and happiness.
While practices have, so far at least, been reluctant to introduce flexible scheduling and remote working, some now accept the benefits of flexibility in terms of employee satisfaction and enhancing the service received by clients. Herbert Smith Freehills, for example, ran a pilot scheme in 2015 which allowed associates and partners to work from home in certain practice areas. Giving lawyers one day a week to work from home boosted staff morale and company loyalty.
Money matters too
Although salaries remain one of the key attractions of a career in the law, today’s young lawyers do not always value high pay for the sake of it. Instead, as mentioned above, they seek a sense of purpose beyond financial success and welcome the opportunity to a work flexibly.
Whilst this new generation of lawyers are perhaps not as financially driven as older colleagues, money will of course always matter. Not only are the majority of young lawyers saddled with student debt, but rising house prices and economic uncertainty mean that they are not without financial worries. Firms must ensure that they not only reward their lawyers financially but also supply them with fulfilling work, offer frequent constructive feedback and provide a productive working environment.
The importance of charity
Millennials are altruistic; up to 63% donate to charity. They’re engaged and socially aware and value firms with a social conscience that recognise the importance of giving back. Firms that provide opportunities for their employees to get involved with good causes will stand out to young lawyers.
Innovation is crucial when connecting with millennial lawyers. Generation Y are digital enthusiasts; technology shapes how they communicate and interact with others and also influences their expectations of the workplace.
For many leading firms, embracing technology to enable remote working etc. still constitutes a leap of faith; it does, however, give lawyers a sense of control and can reduce workplace stress resulting in increased loyalty and commitment.
Importantly, young lawyers understand how technology and remote working can be beneficial for business. Because they are technologically-minded, millennial lawyers are likely to be more closely aligned with a firm’s client base and can provide valuable insights into their wants, needs and expectations.
The challenge for the progressive employers is less about managing millennial employees and more about managing a talented, diverse, multi-generational workforce. The changes championed by millennials are not too different from the aspirations of the workforce generally: workflow autonomy, a good work-life balance, meaningful work and encouragement from management.
By addressing the needs of this emergent, optimistic group, firms will provide solutions to workplace engagement issues that will benefit their entire workforce. Those firms providing a rewarding, flexible workplace and which offer plenty of opportunities for learning and development will succeed.