President’s Message, Like Water and Oil:  Millennials and Traditional Law Firms

President’s Message, Like Water and Oil: Millennials and Traditional Law Firms

What to do with those pesky Millennials? You know the ones, that generation born between 1980 and 1995. The trophy generation (because they all received their participation trophies). Much has been said about how Millennial attorneys just don’t fit in traditional law firms. I have to agree. Firms and Millennials are like water and oil. They don’t naturally blend, but if you shake it up, you can create a fabulous vinaigrette!

For those of us with a few years under our belts, who came up in the traditional associate to partner, big firm model of law, Millennials can be a challenge. They don’t want to follow the traditional rules. But you know what, that is ok, because our clients don’t particularly like that traditional model of law either. The one where clients get to pay to train new attorneys and they get to pay the trainer too. In the world of tech and start-ups, consumers of legal services are looking for efficiencies. Millennials can help build more responsive firms.

Think about some of the typical Millennial characteristics:
Work/Life Balance: Millennials value work/life balance. Facetime doesn’t do it for them. They are more likely to be focused on completing a particular project so they can head home to engage in family activities, travel, or their own entrepreneurial pursuits.

Interesting Projects: These people are looking for interesting and engaging projects to work on. Projects that are meaningful to them. The meaning may come merely from the fact that they are learning a new skill, but it will be meaningful nonetheless. Parking a Millennial in a room full of discovery documents for days on end won’t cut it.

Communication: Receiving input from supervisors is key. Millennials want to know how they are doing. They also want to know why they are doing it and what the goal is. And this isn’t a one way street either. They are likely to want to provide their thoughts and opinions regarding a project. They are looking for dialogue on how to best handle a project.

These common characteristics don’t fit well into traditional law firm operations. However, for those organizations that are adaptable there are real opportunities to build more efficient, modern organizations that can better provide services to demanding clients.

What would this mean to a firm? First of all, firms need consider how to incorporate more flextime into their work environment. If the project is getting done and the work product is good, does it matter if the work was done at 4 pm or 4 am? For working parents, or for attorneys who have non-legal activities that they are passionate about, flexibility in work hours is key.

This may also mean abandoning the billable hour in favor of alternative billing structures. Clients are not just looking for savings in legal services, but also predictability. They want to be able to reliably budget for expenses. Fixed fee services or limited scope services might benefit Millennial attorneys, their firms and clients.

Next, firms and their senior attorneys and partners should be prepared to spend more time talking about (not lecturing) cases and projects. Millennials want to know where they are going with a project. It may also be valuable to explain how the young attorney’s assignment fits into the case and is a valuable component. One solution may be to assign a Millennial attorney to a senior attorney who will be responsible for educating and updating the Millennial on the case. This may take more time than giving the young attorney a form and tell them to revise it, but the product is likely to be better.

Some firms are developing training programs that provide finance and accounting training to enhance first years’ business skills. Others are creating programs that allow young attorneys to work across practice lines so that they can gain exposure to multiple fields while making the best use of their legal skills. Providing these opportunities allows Millennials to do interesting work while still making valuable contributions.

And it would be wrong to think that Millennials don’t have something to offer firms besides their time. This is the generation that was raised on the web and with technology literally in their hands. This provides a prime opportunity for old school firms to get input from this tech savvy group about apps to promote efficiency, marketing on the internet, or just connect with potential entrepreneurial clients.
You know, when I was a kid, people complained about kids. Some things never change. But without a doubt, the legal industry is changing. It was never really stagnant. The issue is how to successfully integrate change into your firm. I suggest you have a chat with a Millennial, they will have plenty of ideas to share.