Making the Case: How to Retain Millennials in Law

This year, we’ve seen news about companies in traditional industries like banking and consulting changing long-standing work practices to address millennials’ expectations about work-life balance and flexibility. (Of course, as one CEO told me, these changes are celebrated by all other generations as well.)

One industry, however, remains as traditional as ever: law. In an industry that still lives and dies by the billable hour, change is especially challenging.

As a recent article in American Lawyer pointed out, some law firms have been slow to adapt to the preferences of a new generation of lawyers. But that will likely need to change: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, millennials comprise nearly a quarter of lawyers.

I’ve shared some changes leaders can make to help millennials thrive in the workplace. Even though most of my advice can be transferred to virtually any industry, law can be a bit of a different animal. I recently had the honor of delivering a conference keynote for the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) about how legal workplaces can better understand and adapt to millennials. Here are five ways suggestions I shared:

Be their coach (and occasionally their cheerleader).

According to The Hartford’s 2015 Millennial Leadership Survey, 60 percent of millennial respondents wanted their employer to provide leadership training. In a busy day filled with meetings and briefs, it can be hard to find time for that training, but it pays off exponentially.

I’ve found that millennials crave clear direction, “common sense” training and actionable feedback. Treating younger associates as apprentices, for instance by inviting them to meetings and court appearances, can pay off in more prepared and engaged associates.

Present multiple options for their career path.

Most law firms have a relatively defined path to the top, but not every associate wants to put in the hours necessary to move to the partner level. If there’s more than one way to be successful at your firm, it’s important to let millennials know. Deloitte calls this option-based system the career “lattice” rather than the “ladder.”

Not interested in creating multiple tracks? That’s fair, but consider that when promising young employees walk out the door, you’re not just losing their experience. You’re losing money. According to a recent article in American Lawyer, firms may invest as much as $250,000 in recruiting and training millennial lawyers.

Let them “job hop” without ever leaving the firm.

According to the 2016 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, 44 percent of millennials plan to change jobs within the next two years. Since the survey included legal services as one of its industries, that means lawyers, too.

One way to keep millennials: Provide them the variety they crave. Millennials are used to unlimited customization and variety as consumers, so it makes sense that one size doesn’t fit all in their careers.

That’s why law firms should consider offering some elements of customization, such as micro-rotations, self-selected pro bono projects or hackathons to help keep millennial employees challenged and engaged.

Remember that “experience is the new swag.”

Millennials prefer experiences over “stuff.” That’s why law firms should consider the “experience” component of their recruitment, onboarding, training and other efforts.

One great example I recently saw: Some law firms are planning a variety of “Instagram-worthy” events and activities for their summer associates, to help them see the firm as a place that offers more than long hours and a paycheck.

Shift the emphasis from hours spent to work completed or impact achieved.

Let’s circle back to those billable hours. If hours are the best way to show success in the firm, chances are the culture won’t change overnight. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also offer some level of flexibility.

What if it were possible for some associates to work from home on certain projects when appropriate? Or to have a degree of flexibility so they could head to a spin class at 5:30 and then continue to work later in the evening? I know this can be a very hard sell, particularly at big firms, but given the technology available today to work productively from anywhere, it’s worth considering whether some form of flexibility is possible.

Okay, lawyers — what do you think of the above? I’d love to hear from you. What can be done to make law firms a great place for millennials?  Please share your stories and ideas in the comments!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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