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Attracting and Retaining the Millennial Lawyer

Christopher Imperiale, CPA (Millennial) 01.19.2017 | Practice Made Perfect

With a population of approximately 80 million, the millennial generation (also known as Generation Y) has surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce.  In order to ensure that a law firm will be able to successfully recruit and retain these young lawyers, management must bridge the generational divide and understand how to best manage them.

The numbers are simply too large to ignore. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials now comprise more than one-third of the U.S. workforce and more than 20% of the legal community. By 2025, millennials will comprise 75% of the world's workforce.

Law firms both large and small must realize that change is imperative in order to attract the top talent from this generation.  Instead of trying to change the new work force to follow a firm's existing processes and procedures, perhaps it's time for firms to start changing their processes and procedures to better accommodate the mentality of this next generation of lawyers.

Millennials in general are often stereotyped as being a generation of whiners who lack a work ethic, need constant praise and hand-holding, tend to be less loyal, and have an over-inflated sense of entitlement. While some of these stereotypes may be true in certain instances, more accurate characteristics of this generation include an entrepreneurial spirit, a collaborative attitude, technological know-how, a keen ability to multitask, and an appreciation of individualism and diversity in the workplace. Millennials have a unique perspective on life and work, and place a high value on working for a purpose; job satisfaction is often more about the "why" than the dollars, according to a 2016 article in Law360, "How to Manage the Millennial Lawyer." 

The successful law firm must work on developing ways to utilize their young talent in the best interests of the firm, which means working together and understanding how to best harvest their talents.   Retaining the millennial generation is one of the biggest challenges law firms face today. Here are a few key elements firms should consider implementing in order to attract and manage the millennial lawyer:

Flexibility is Key

It's no secret that Millennials are tech savvy. The evolution of technology has made it possible to work from nearly anywhere at any time.  One of the most attractive perks a law firm can offer its millennial attorneys is the opportunity to work from home and have a flexible "flex" schedule. Not too long ago, work was confined to an office building. However, advances in technology have redefined where and how we work. Work has shifted from a place to a space; work occurs wherever Wi-Fi is available. Flexibility means giving them the opportunity to work on their own terms and is likely to result in increased hours as well as better attitudes.

Give them Feedback

Millennials desire instant feedback and value performance reviews, which means management must take this process seriously when working with this younger generation.  Millennials have grown up in a world where information is available at their fingertips, so the fact that they desire instant feedback and gratification comes as no surprise. They desire this same type of feedback in the workplace.  Annual and bi-annual performance reviews are not enough.  Management should make a strong effort to engage consistent feedback - both formal and ad-hoc - that includes acknowledgement of successes and weaknesses as well as open dialogue on required areas of improvement.  Spending the time to give consistent feedback will help keep younger staff motivated and engaged, and will help ensure that they feel involved and appreciated.

Support their Growth

Millennials are go-getters and want to reap the benefits of good performance instantaneously.  One of the key things they look for in a potential employer is career advancement opportunities as well as a strong training and development program. It is important for the employer to nurture their talents and encourage them to take on new projects and responsibilities. And when they do something extra, millennials want to be acknowledged and rewarded.

Millennials who are about to enter the workforce often mention their desire for a strong training program and a mentor-type relationship - someone with whom they can bounce questions on an ad hoc basis - as a key requirement when selecting an employer. They want to ensure that they are obtaining the skills necessary to add value to the firm almost instantly.  They want to be a part of the team and desire the resources to help them achieve that objective.

Despite the common perception that the millennial is more interested in job satisfaction than salary, transparency regarding compensation is still extremely important to this generation. As such, if firms need to adjust pay scales in order to provide millennials with the resources they need to thrive and succeed, management must clearly communicate this -  explaining that the additional training, feedback, and flexibility come at a cost to the firm and are, in fact, part of the overall compensation package.

With this new reality, employers should make an effort to stop micro-managing the process of a task; instead, today's managers must focus on managing the outputs or the employee's results of a task or project.

The desired output must be clearly communicated and clear examples provided, whenever possible:

  • Communicate timeframes for deliverables;
  • Frequently deliver relevant feedback; and
  • Schedule recurring time for the team to collaborate.

If a firm can shift attitudes and practices from prior generations, it can be very successful in recruiting and retaining millennials and helping them become the top legal professionals of the future.

Questions? Contact your Berdon advisor or John Fitzgerald, CPA, Berdon LLP, New York Accountants

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