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Generational influence: opportunity knocks

Generational influence: opportunity knocks

By Mira Stammers

Workplace Workplace Relations Young Persons 

Generational influence: opportunity knocks Understanding and leveraging Millennials is critical to the future economic success of law firms. by Mira Stammers As Millennial lawyers climb the ranks and start outnumbering the Baby Boomers, law firms are left puzzled about how to retain, engage and leverage the tech-savvy, self-possessed Millennial generation. Conceivably, trying to understand Millennials through the lens of past practices creates this confusion. In order to harness the economic power of the Millennial generation, firms will need to change their organisational mindset and adapt their practices for the future. The Millennial challenge Law firms are conventionally based on a culture of hard work, long hours, rigid hierarchies and delayed gratification. Career paths are traditional and highly structured. Until recently, law firms have banked on the fact that generous salaries and bonuses would keep associates engaged and motivated, just as they did for the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), and to a lesser extent Gen Xers (born 1965-1980).1 Unfortunately, study after study reveals that the incentives that kept Baby Boomers and Gen Xers on the partnership treadmill (eg, loyalty, job titles and money) may be entirely misplaced with the next generation,2 the Millennials (born 1981-2000).3 Increasingly it is becoming clear that Millennial lawyers are a different breed. They are shaped by, among other things, technology, positive feedback and helicopter parenting, and are often viewed as needy, disloyal and as having a sense of entitlement.4 They are not defined by their work, they do not necessarily find the goal of partnership alluring, and they embrace new technologies and new business models with enthusiasm. In fact, for many Millennials, the entire hierarchical structure that underpins the traditional law firm model is questionable. However, this thirst for meaning and the eagerness to challenge the status quo is not unique to Millennials within the legal profession. A 2017 State of the American Workplace Report that surveyed 195,600 employees across several industries found that “. . . millennials want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day. They want to learn and develop. They want their job to fit their life”.5 The report also noted the importance of flexibility, with “greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing” being rated as a highly important attribute when considering a new workplace, second only to “the ability to do what they do best”.6 This generational shift is not to be ignored. This is particularly so in light of the Deloitte Millennial Survey, which states that by 2025, 75 per cent of the global workforce will be Millennials.7 While most law firms are acutely aware that Millennials are a critical aspect of their future economic success, many have little understanding of how to incorporate Millennials into their business planning. Some firms continue to force Millennials into their traditional business models, with little success. Others understand that in order to attract and retain talent, flexibility is a driving currency. However, if the solution were as simple as the provision of flexibility, firms that have implemented such work practices would not still be struggling to motivate the modern day Millennial. It is becoming clear that the position is more complex than once thought, and that Millennial preferences have the power to reshape a traditionally change-resistant profession from the inside out. Law firm leaders, legal futurists and legal market analysts have begun to unravel the Millennial mystery. That is, in order to attract, retain and leverage the next generation, firms need to appreciate what motivates Millennials on a holistic level. It is not enough to continue what has always been done, or indeed to change one management policy. Those wishing to unlock the talent and inspire the Millennials must start working with their preferences and tendencies, instead of against them.8 They must tap into the Millennial mindset where work and life are intertwined, not just “balanced”. This may require a willingness to entirely remodel the work culture and rethink business and hiring strategies. The Millennial mindset According to a 2017 Millennial report commissioned by Lawyers on Demand, Millennial lawyers are going to “rewrite the DNA of law firms”.9 Legal market analyst and report author Jordan Furlong points out that “we . . . are at a key transition point in the evolution of the legal services market. That market is changing from a dormant, low-tech, individualistic system to a dynamic, high-tech, collaborative one”.10 It is noteworthy, though unsurprising, that this change within the broader legal services market appears to be reflective of the characteristics of the Millennial generation. Importantly, the report outlines the changes we are likely to see as the Millennial generation rewrites the DNA of law firms. According to the report, there are seven key changes we should expect to see as Millennials begin to outnumber Baby Boomers.11 Disaggregated Furlong notes that Millennials are “wireless, mobile, and peripatetic”. Accordingly, they will thrive in workplaces that are fragmented, flexible and collaborative. Traditional hierarchies will disappear as project teams take over, aligning skills with tasks to deliver cost savings and value to the client. Outsourcing and remote working will become the norm, reflecting how mobile this generation is. Diverse While it may take time, ultimately law firms will “shed their immense socio-economic, physical-capacity, and racial and gender privilege”. Furlong posits that Millennials are very serious about diversity issues, and in particular, barriers against women advancing within the profession will start to reduce. Eventually, law firm demographics will more closely align to broader community demographics. These firms are likely to set targets with respect to gender and racial representation, particularly in leadership positions. Multi-disciplinary Law firms are set to become more multi-disciplinary under the leadership of Millennials. They are a generation that understands the benefits of having teams of multi-disciplinary professionals working together to solve complex matters for clients. Lawyers will be joined by professionals such as accountants, data scientists and programmers, initially as employees and then as part-owners. This serves to increase value for the client. Predictably priced Millennials will continue to work on understanding and improving the costs and profits associated with common tasks. Flat-fee and subscription-style pricing arrangements will become the norm as Millennials understand the importance of reliable and transparent pricing. The billable hour will be implemented as an exception rather than the rule. Responsive Responsiveness will become a driving force behind law firm management. Millennials understand the importance of client experience and satisfaction. Their law firms will continually assess, record and respond to the level of client satisfaction. They will focus on client needs and will respond to what clients tell them they want. Technology-enabled Millennials were born in the information age. They are not technophobic and will use technology to improve efficiencies. They will employ software where possible and will increase firm revenue by “distilling and packaging the firm’s expertise”. Routine and repeatable tasks will be automated and a percentage of profits will continually be reinvested into research and development. Value-based Millennial law firms will prioritise the best interests of the client over the financial interests of the firm. Initial meetings with clients will focus on identifying client goals and defining what “value” means for the client, including with respect to pricing. These will later be measured against results and discussed with the client. Workflows will be optimised to further increase value for the client. The insights gleaned from this report allow firms to understand in greater depth the mindset of their Millennial employees. This new generation of lawyers seeks collaboration, connection, diversity, work-life integration and value creation. Leveraging the Millennial opportunity For those firms wishing to leverage rather than discourage the Millennial mindset, the future looks promising. Millennials are fast becoming an unstoppable force, one that firms can harness to gain a competitive edge. Rather than resenting differences, firm leaders could choose to recognise that they have immediate access to confident, ambitious young lawyers who are motivated to create change from within. Helpfully, Furlong suggests that there are some practical things all firms can do to align themselves with the Millennial personality. These include:12 Stop resisting the Millennials – it is time to accept them, even if they are different. Understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses can help bridge the generational gap. Work with their best qualities – focus on the attributes that Millennial employees have that make them great lawyers and future leaders, not on the qualities that frustrate the Baby Boomer employers. Instead of viewing them as “needy”, provide ongoing constructive feedback and self-improvement projects so that they can improve and lead. It is a cost-effective way to motivate them and retain talent. Let them be mobile – Millennials like to experience new opportunities. Let them be exposed to new opportunities by rotating them through different roles and departments within the firm. If client secondments are available, allow them access to these opportunities. Give them strategic planning responsibilities to allow them to see the firm from all angles. Shorten and tighten the promotional track – identify talent early and discuss promotional goals. If they are not interested, ask them what they need in order to commit. Allow them to demonstrate their abilities – Millennials enjoy showing off their talents. Allow them to help shape the habits and customs within the firm. The opportunity to leverage the Millennial mindset and innovate from within should not be underestimated. If law firms are courageous enough to embrace change, Millennials will be able to work with Baby Boomers to create the law firm of the future, the very firm that Millennial clients are likely to engage. Like their lawyer counterparts, Millennial clients grew up in an age of economic uncertainty. They will, therefore, be value-focused and will have little tolerance for inefficiencies. This generation is familiar with gig economies where choice of service providers is abundant. They will use this choice to their advantage and will select the most appropriate lawyers for their specific needs. Their buying habits are also shaped by online providers such as Ebay and Amazon, so they will expect transparency of features, lawyer reviews and easy access to responsive, convenient services. Importantly, Millennial clients will also value “bespoke experiences for commoditised services – the direct opposite of what law firms have traditionally provided”.13 They will reject the billable hour and seek out cost-effective advice that takes into account their broader strategic goals. All of these needs drive their buying decisions. This information makes the argument for aligning law firms with their Millennial employees more robust. While many firms may inherently be averse to change, their economic prosperity may be at risk if the importance and power of Millennials, both internally and externally, is underestimated. In an era of disruption and transformation of the legal services sector, remaining relevant and competitive may indeed come down to leveraging the Millennial opportunity. n Mira Stammers is a lawyer, academic, innovator and author of The Modern Lawyer. She is a lecturer at La Trobe Law School where she teaches Legal Disruption. 1. Lori A Lofano and Atoyia Scott Harris, “Millennials Rising: Generational Differences and the Practice of Law”, 2. See, eg, Clark University, The Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults (2015), 3. Note 1 above, n26. 4. Charles Thompson and Jane Brodie Gregory, “Managing Millennials: A Framework for Improving Attraction, Motivation, and Retention”, (2012) 15(4) The Psychologist Manager Journal 237. 5. Gallup, State of the American Workplace Report, (2017) 6. Note 5 above. 7. Deloitte, The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 (2017), 8. Lizzy McLellan, “Millennials Won’t Destroy Your Law Firm. Can They Save It?”, The American Lawyer (23 October 2017), 9. Jordan Furlong, “The Rise of the Millennial Lawyer”, (24 May 2017) Lawyers on Demand 10. Note 9 above, n6. 11. Note 9 above, n10-14. 12. Jordan Furlong, “Deciphering the Millennial Lawyer” (24 October 2017), 13. Note 9 above, 18.

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