Millennials are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. That might be a frightening reality to some lawyers, especially those of the Boomer generation. We have all heard the stories and rumors about how exasperating millennials are: they’re always on their phones, they have strange priorities, and they don’t have a strong work ethic. Millennials have gotten a lot of attention as a generation, and the majority of it isn’t positive. That perception can, and should, be shifted.
By 2021, millennials will make up over half of the U.S. workforce. Many of the Baby Boomers are starting to retire, and there are not enough Gen Xers in the workforce to replace all of them. Like it or not, capturing the talent of the millennial generation is imperative to the success of many businesses, including law firms. It is not an option to avoid millennials in the workforce any longer, either as employees or as clients.
In fact, the law firm as we know it may be changing, for the better—due to the influence of the millennial lawyers. Susan Smith Blakely likens the millennials to the Greatest Generation in her book, What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice. She notes that millennials do indeed have a different set of priorities than the generations of lawyers who have come before them, because they grew up watching the workaholic lawyers whose lives were often complicated by greed, stress-related illnesses, addiction issues, and failed marriages. Millennial lawyers, like the Greatest Generation lawyers, reject this contention that the practice of law must come at such great personal cost. She reports that millennial lawyers value simpler lives, sharing, teamwork, fairness, interpersonal relationships, work-life balance, having effort acknowledged and appreciated, and living life fully outside of the workplace.
So how is the law firm built on the blood, sweat, and tears of the Baby Boomers to survive in the hands of millennial attorneys? Bridging the generational gap happens when both generations learn how to connect with each other professionally. There is a lot that millennials can offer law firms, and there are so many lessons to be passed down by the previous generations of attorneys.
Contrary to popular Boomer belief, millennials are not afraid of hard work. Millennial lawyers want to be seen as part of the team and feel that their work matters. Engaging their desire to work hard involves making the work they do feel valuable and valued. A key component to engage them in law firm culture is the mentor-mentee relationship. Law firms should push millennial attorneys to seek out their own mentors. The days of matching mentors with mentees based on geographic location, law school, or gender are over, because those methods did not work. Millennials need to take the initiative to seek out good mentors for themselves, and nurture those relationships. They must keep in mind that their more experienced mentors are giving up precious time that could be spent in many other ways, and to truly appreciate that. Applying the lessons that mentors have learned the hard way can really help the mentees succeed, and what mentor does not want to see their mentee succeed? It’s a win-win.
Appreciating millennial lawyers’ penchant for the latest technology is a quick way to engage them in business, both as employees and as clients. More seasoned lawyers should embrace the millennials’ tendencies to do things quickly and efficiently, just as the millennial lawyers should remember the importance of doing a job correctly and the power of face-to-face communication. Everyone benefits when millennials remember to send handwritten thank-you notes and pick up the phone to dial clients directly (instead of using e-mail), and everyone wins when technology is utilized for the greatest good of the firm.
Transparency and clarity between associates and partners goes a long way with keeping the professional relationship positive. Millennials will not only work harder if they are fully engaged, but they will continue to strive to do their best with feedback from senior attorneys, mentors, partners, and managers. Meeting twice a year is no longer enough. All team members should make the time in their busy schedules to give and receive both good and bad feedback, compliments, constructive criticism, and lessons to learn.
Harnessing the power of the millennial attorneys is critical to the modern practice of law. Encouraging personal touches, providing feedback and honesty, and fully engaging millennials as a part of the team will help law firms continue to thrive well into the future.