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Gen-Z Attorneys Increasingly Aspire to Career Paths Beyond BigLaw, New Survey From MLA Finds

With their career values significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, majority of respondents say they place a premium on work-life balance and flexibility

Hanover, MD – May 10, 2023 – The majority of Gen-Z attorneys and law students are hoping to pursue a career path beyond joining a BigLaw firm and making partner, according to responses from the 2023 survey report, Gen-Z: Now Influencing Today’s Law Firm Culture, released today by Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s largest legal search firm. Over the course of the pandemic, the desire to join a BigLaw firm after law school graduation has decreased among future Gen-Z attorneys. While 70% of respondents said they plan to pursue the law firm track, 39% said they would join a BigLaw firm, down from 59% who said the same in the 2020 version of MLA’s survey. Additionally, a combined 53% of Gen-Z respondents said they were interested in eventually transitioning to an in-house, government, or non-profit role long-term, compared to 23% who hope to one day make partner at a law firm. The Gen Z Survey was conducted between January and March 2023, and surveyed law students and young lawyers from around the world, with a particular focus on those attending the top 100 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. 

When asked what would make one stay in BigLaw long-term, Gen-Z respondents reported opportunities for advancement and highest market salary as the primary factors that would keep them in this type of firm. Conversely, they indicated long hours and frequently working nights and weekends as strong motivators for leaving a BigLaw job, a testament to this generation’s commitment to achieving a work-life balance and flexible work arrangements. 

“The results of this survey indicate Gen-Z continues to place an extremely high value on work-life balance and flexible work arrangements, a trend that has only been heightened amid the pandemic,” said Jacqueline Bokser LeFebvre, Managing Director and co-author of the Survey. “While they of course recognize that law firm life will entail some late night or weekend work, many do not expect or want these long hours to be a frequent occurrence. As a result, they’re giving more serious consideration to career paths that might pay less, but offer other benefits like flexible and remote work, part-time work policies, and mental health services and support.”

Gen-Z also gives significant weight to the moral values of their prospective employers, with 60% of respondents noting that corporate responsibility programs were important in their selection of a potential employer, and 63% reporting that a company’s social justice priorities would play a role in their decision-making process.

“Over the past three years, amid both the pandemic and the racial justice movement that was sparked in 2020, Gen-Z has witnessed a lot of upheaval and social change that has indelibly shaped what they want out of their careers and their lives,” says Nathan Peart, Managing Director, Practice Lead, and co-author of the Survey. “Perhaps more so than any other generation currently practicing law, this generation highly values social justice and altruism, and we see this priority merging with their strong desire for work-life balance as they increasingly look toward previously less-traditional paths like government or non-profit work.”

Other highlights of the survey included: 

  • Formal mentorship and training tied competitive compensation as the most important factors for Gen-Z in selecting an employer. Gen-Z also reported that an open-door environment and informal day-to-day training are highly motivating factors to them. At the same time, nearly a third of respondents (29%) said they expect to be able to work remotely as desired.
  • The vast majority of Gen-Z respondents (79%) agreed that sexism within law firm culture remains a problem. This sentiment indicates the continued urgent need for firms to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in a meaningful way. At the same time, however, most respondents (69%) said they felt law firm culture overall is changing for the better.
  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents said optional reduced hours or part-time work policies are the most attractive mental health-related policies that an employer could offer. At 39% each, Gen-Z respondents said mental health leave and free subsidized gym memberships are the second-most compelling mental health initiatives that an employer could provide.
  • Gen-Z would trade a portion of their compensation for work-life balance and loan assistance. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they would trade a portion of their compensation for more time off, 60% for a flexible work schedule, 44% for student loan assistance, and 41% for reduction in billable hours. 

The full text of the 2023 survey report, Gen-Z: Now Influencing Today’s Law Firm Culture is available here

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