According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the country’s population is comprised of more than 80 million individuals who were born between the years 1980 and 1999. Popularly referred to as Millennials, this group is the largest age cohort in history.
Given their relatively ubiquitous presence in the U.S. workforce (they represent more than a third of workers), it’s not surprising that Millennials are reported to currently make up as much as 21.5 percent of lawyers in the U.S. When viewed through the lens of the unique work ethos that characterizes the group, the implications of these labor statistics for the business of law prove significant.
The Technology Generation
Several characteristics tend to define how the Millennial interfaces with work. Foremost among these is the fact that the generation is arguably the most technology-adept group in the history of the workforce. Just as the Industrial Revolution ushered in not only new ways of producing goods, but also new ways of thinking about work, the Technology Revolution is actually altering the human brain itself. Whether such changes are good or bad is still a subject for debate, but what isn’t being disputed is the fact that the embrace of technology by Millennials is having a profound impact on their employers — including law firms and corporate legal departments.
A New Breed of Attorney
Having grown up with email, the Internet, mobile phones and Wi-Fi, the tech-savvy millennial generation expects nothing less from their workplace. Law firms that fail to keep up with technology will find it difficult to attract and keep the young attorneys they need to relate to and win the trust of Millennials on the client side. As well, efforts to grow a firm’s business without the support of technology and the individuals who know how to leverage it are likely to founder.
There’s no shortage of articles and opinion pieces written about the challenges of managing Millennials. A common thread is an acknowledgement that this group has a unique perspective on life and work and the temporal intersection of the two. Today’s young, tech-savvy workers use their sophisticated, web-enabled devices to blur the lines between work time and personal time. They create and maintain virtual connections with a broad and physically remote audience via social media. And perhaps most importantly, they are more difficult to retain in a job if the conditions don’t correspond to their notion of what workplace nirvana should look like.
Adopt, Adapt and Reap the Rewards
As law firms onboard a new crop of associates, the question remains – should the partners expect Millennials to adopt the established way of doing things, or should the firm adapt to accommodate the new breed of lawyers and their status-disrupting worldview? Given the importance of a firm’s relationships with its clients, retaining lawyers who are instrumental to those relationships is critical to a firm’s success. If that means making accommodations necessary to keep Millennial associates in the fold, that’s the price that must be paid.
For firms that are committed to implementing a CRM system for business development, for example, the rewards can be significant. Millennials can provide the early adopter backbone of tech-savvy users that supports eventual firmwide adoption of such a system. By engaging their participation in the early stages of the CRM planning and implementation processes, firms can capitalize on the Millennials’ receptiveness to trying new things and lay the foundation for eventual CRM-enabled business development success across the firm.
Millennials in the Law Department
And what about the corporate law side of the fence? The story there isn’t any different. General Counsels recognize the critical importance of retaining a company’s and a law department’s institutional knowledge. Sharing that knowledge with new inside counsel ensures that the knowledge is passed on – but at the risk of losing a bearer of that key information if a young lawyer moves on to greener legal pastures. The remedy is to provide a nurturing environment that offers the challenges, the rewards and the flexibility that will keep Millennials engaged, enthused and happily employed in the corporate law department.
Compromise, then Leverage
A measure of compromise on the part of both Millennials and their employers can go a long way toward cementing solid working relationships in firms and in corporate law departments. If the relationship is based on mutual trust, respect for differences and a recognition that the workplace is evolving as never before, the generational dissimilarities that distinguish Millennials from their non-Millennial employers and co-workers can be leveraged to everyone’s advantage.