Attracting Millennials: Seven Tips for Large Law Firms Leaders

Aderant Millennials

Attracting Millennials: Seven Tips for Large Law Firms Leaders

Many times we are quick to dismiss millennials – which Pew Research defines as those born after 1980 – as idle, disloyal and entitled.

“Countless articles have depicted millennials as a spoiled ‘everybody gets a trophy,’ ‘special snowflakes’ group reared by overly involved ‘helicopter’ parents,” wrote MP McQueen, in an article titled Here Come the Big Law Millennials for the American Lawyer.

“But studies and interviews indicate that millennials themselves resist the label, while boomers generally accept theirs: Only 40 percent of millennials identify with the tag.”

Perhaps millennials are misunderstood.

The Generational Effect

Historically, major events have had a clear impact on generational thinking.  For example, the impact of the Great Depression, the Second World War and the civil rights movement, all profoundly influenced the collective view of the traditionalist and baby boomer generations.

“At this point, millennials make up more than 60 percent of our workforce, and it’s fun to note that it’s sometimes the people with less work experience who invite us to innovate, try something new, or reconsider doing something the way we’ve always done it”

Significant events that took center stage as millennials were coming of age included things like global warming and the financial recession. But perhaps more significant in the lives of millennials during their formative years were the technological revolution and the rise of social media.

These events have helped shape the world view of a generation, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation.  Money alone isn’t the motivator it was for previous generations. These facts are having a transformational impact on the workforce, including within legal circles.

In 2014, the consulting firm Deloitte published a landmark survey of millennials that illustrated this notion:

  • Value ethics. 50% want to work for businesses that emphasize ethics;
  • Seek innovation. 78% said innovation was an influential factor in deciding on employers;
  • Desire opportunity. 75% say organizations “could do more to develop future leaders;”
  • Admire generosity. 63% donate to charity while 43% “actively volunteer or are a member of a community organization;” and
  • Get Involved. 52% have put a signature on petitions.

“Millennials believe the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance, with a focus on improving society among the most important things it should seek to achieve,” according to the study, in the summary of findings.

“Millennials are also charitable and keen to participate in ‘public life.’”

In essence, the research suggests millennials are highly engaged, caring and even idealist.  What has traditionally enabled employers to motivate, attract and retain talent in the past – factors such as financial rewards – do not appear to move millennials.

Millennials in Large Law

The impact on law firm talent acquisition mirrors the effects being experienced by the broader business community.

For example, reporting by Debra Cassens Weiss for the ABA Journal, and the aforementioned American Lawyer, noted the average age of partners within the top 200 law firms was 52 years of age. At the same time, partners between the ages of 71 to 88 hold three percent of the overall partner ranks, while millennials account for just two percent.

These numbers indicate the generational change coming the next couple of decades in large law will be tremendous. The challenge for those large law firms thinking about succession planning, and the years it takes to mentor a protégé, is that millennials seem disinclined to hang around the law firm long enough.

A case in point stems from data presented by Michelle C. Nash at the 2015 ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition: “Cumulatively, 70% of entry-level associates who departed during 2006-2011 left their firms within five years or less of their arrival.”

Seven Tips for Large Law to Attract and Retain Millennials

The trend line and magnitude of the potential problem is increasingly becoming a key talent focus for law firm leaders concerned about future competitiveness.  Indeed, some firms have developed lateral programs dedicated to millennials, while others have honed in on modifying the culture.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP is an example of a large law firm molding its culture in an effort, not just to attract millennials, but for the benefit of the overall firm.

“One of the great things about Orrick is we are really committed to listening to what millennials value and adapting our culture,” according to Siobhan Handley, the chief talent officer at Orrick in a public statement.  “It’s caused us to get a lot more creative in our programs – and I think it’s benefitted everyone on our team, regardless of generation.”

Her analysis was part of a law firm announcement noting that Orrick was the only law firm to earn a place on the 2016 list of 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials by Fortune.

This got us to thinking:  what else should law firms be doing differently to attract and retain millennial talent?  Below are a few tips we’ve curated from around the legal web.

1) Create an agile work environment

Millennials hold strong opinions for how technology is leveraged in the workplace. Most use or bring their own devices into the workplace (something CIO’s really appreciate…not). Therefore, effective use of technology is key to attracting and keeping millennials.

The time spent at a desk isn’t always a good measure of productivity.  At Aderant, we refer to this as enabling an “Agile Culture” where people can do their jobs whenever, and wherever they need to be, not confined to a specific space or location. Access to the information they need to do their jobs and the enablement of mobile workflows are critical components in developing an agile culture.

In fact, a Nielsen study in 2014 talked about how “technology is baked into every Millennial’s DNA.” They have an extremely positive attitude and acceptance of technology because it has made their personal lives so much easier. It stands to reason that they think technology can make their professional lives easier too.

2) Build alternative career paths

Law firms spend as much as $250,000 to recruit and train lateral hires including millennials, according to Ru Bhatt, a managing director at the talent agency, Major, Lindsey & Africa.

“Firms that implement strategies that embrace a millennial lateral candidate’s characteristics and career goals are most successful in achieving their hiring objectives,” he wrote in a piece posted to LinkedIn titled, The Millennial Lawyer: Not Your Average Millennial.

“Law firms that are going to come out ahead are those that can build alternative career paths into their models and eliminate that stigma of non-partner posts.”

3) Provide workload predictability

Much has been written about the millennial desire for work-life balance, but Alex Wolf, a reporter for Law360, captured a more insightful remark in his piece titled: 4 Ways Millennials Are Changing BigLaw.

He cites Ru Batt mentioned above in his article:

“A lot of them are really focused on a balance in their life. It’s not that they don’t want to work hard. They do. I think what they really do want is predictability in their schedule. That is what enables them to make their life plans.”

Millennials seek balance, health and time for family relationships, according to Pamela DeNeuve. “If these things are not available, they have no hesitation to leave the firm,” she says in a commentary published to LinkedIn called Can Millennial Attorneys Work Successfully With Baby Boomers?

4) Foster a culture of inclusiveness

Millennials grew up with the internet and social media. They love being allowed to collaborate. Research shows millennials thrive on feedback, opportunity and participation, which is perhaps why Silvia L. Coulter wrote, “Leaders who care about their firms will do well by inviting all levels of the firm to participate in feedback.”

“We ask clients what they think and, well, it’s time to ask the members of the firm what they think, which includes all lawyers, all generations, all business professionals and all support staff,” she continued in a piece called Law Firm Talent Retention: Culture Matters.

She makes a point to say her piece was reviewed by millennial Geoffrey Schuler.

5) Harness millennials for innovation

Millennials tend to be tech-savvy, having grown up with the advent of the web.  That interest in technology and penchant for creativity could prove useful for law firm innovation according to Dorie Blesoff, chief people officer at kCura in this blog post: How Your Team’s Millennials Will Up Your e-Discovery Game

“At this point, millennials make up more than 60 percent of our workforce, and it’s fun to note that it’s sometimes the people with less work experience who invite us to innovate, try something new, or reconsider doing something the way we’ve always done it,” she says.

The fact that millennials look at the world differently sometimes, is a really good thing for innovation.

6) Really do something about diversity

Diversity has increasingly become important to corporate counsel. Indeed, the Association of Corporate Counsel recently added diversity questions for the first time to its annual Chief Legal Officer survey.

Similarly, millennials are likely to put a greater emphasis on diversity because as a generation, they are a far more diverse group, according to an opinion piece in Bloomberg Big Law Business: Diversity is a Business Imperative for Law Firms (Perspective).

“For example, while 28 percent of baby boomers are made up of ethnically diverse individuals, 48 percent of millennials are ethnically diverse,” writes author Steven Wright, a partner with Holland & Knight, LLP.

7)  Be more charitable with time and donations

Law firms can go a long way toward winning the hearts and minds of millennials with a genuine focus on charity and civic duties.   Certainly donating money counts for a lot, perhaps even having the firm match individual attorney donations,  but donating time is just as important.

“The first and most important step is to make space in your practice for regular civic engagement,” write two millennial lawyers in an article titled, Perspective: Millennials in Big Law — Let’s Get to Work.

“Commit to billing 10% of your hours to pro-bono matters and board work. You will be a better attorney, and a happier person, for having done so,” they add.

At the time of publication, co-authors Corey Laplante was employed by Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, LLP and Katie Larkin-Wong hailed from Latham & Watkins, LLP.

Millennials want to make their communities better and have an impact. Firms would be wise to shout from the mountaintops their community involvement. It matters….a lot.

Future Leaders of Big Law

Time will have its way and one generation will surely replace another at the helm of leadership in large firms.  However, this process takes years, even decades, to transpire, which provides the current leadership the opportunity to facilitate a culture ensuring the longevity of their firms. To that end, attracting and retaining millennial talent is a pivotal piece in succession planning.

As befuddling as millennial management may seem on the surface, the research suggests it isn’t harder to motivate young or aspiring attorneys, it’s just different. Understanding the nuance may well be a competitive advantage in the large law talent war.

Note: Aderant recently published a new white paper titled “Efficiency is the Future of Law.” The paper explains in part, why mobility is a key aspect of the new role of the modern and comprehensive case management technology for competitive law firms.  All Aderant white papers are available for download – no registration required – on our law firm resource page.

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