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The Millennial Lawyer: Not Your Average Millennial

We all know the stereotypes about millennials: they’re entitled; they want instant gratification; they want to feel special; they want a trophy just for showing up; they’re sidetracked by technology;  they want special privileges; and, most importantly for this article, they're job hoppers. 

However, not all millennials are created equal—especially if you consider one that is a lawyer. But what makes a millennial lawyer different from the millennials we typically hear about in the media?

Characteristics
For starters, as attorneys, they are certainly more risk averse. They not only have worked hard throughout law school to achieve the best law firm job possible, but they have adapted to the legal industry’s general values of prestige and sophistication of work and have applied it to their mindset. They also understand that they can’t make multiple moves, so the right fit is very important. However, they are frustrated that everyone thinks they are lazy just because of the millennial stereotype. What they really want is more flexibility in how they accomplish their work. They are also frustrated by the tension in a law firm’s institutional hierarchical structure and their desire to work on substantial work sooner. What’s substantial? They want to see direct results of their actions.

What’s most surprising to the legal industry about millennial lawyers is that they do not necessarily see law firm partnership as their ultimate career goal. For decades, success in law firms followed a simple formula: grind out years of marathon workweeks and slowly increase your role and responsibility on matters in exchange for making partner—and a fat paycheck. However, those times have changed. There is much more emphasis being placed on your ability to build a book of business in order to become partner, a frightening variable to many risk-averse attorneys. The alternative, becoming a service partner, is hardly ideal as it necessitates even more marathon workweeks with little change in responsibility. As a result, many millennial associates recognize that the math doesn’t work out for them and they’ll seek our alternatives.

What will those alternatives look like? They are going to maximize their options and look for a new job that satisfies other interests. They want to feel excited about interesting work and get meaningful and constructive feedback. They want to see direct results from their actions and take on more substantial work sooner than it is being given to them. After a few years as junior associates, they will recognize these factors and move to a firm that will satisfy these new requirements.

The Job Hopping Trend
Millennial lawyers are mobile and entrepreneurial. The diminishing number of associates at big firms, the longer and riskier road to making partner and the increased acceptance of lateral moves in the industry means that many millennials accept the idea of job-hopping after a couple of years as a given result. This poses a problem for the firms that invest as much as $250,000 in recruiting and training them. As a headhunter, I see an alarming number of junior associates asking for help to make a move. Some are lateraling after only one year! According to a survey by Deloitte, during the next year one in four millennials will quit his or her current employer to join a new organization or to do something different.

Millennials in general express little loyalty to their current employers and many are planning near-term exits. This “loyalty challenge” is driven by a variety of factors:

  • Millennials feel underutilized and believe they’re not being developed as leaders. 
  • Young people who came of age during the economic downturn are less trusting of the financial sector in general and are more eager to find jobs they believe serve a social good.
  • They often put their personal values ahead of organizational goals, and several have shunned assignments and potential employers that conflict with their beliefs.

Why This Matters to Law Firms
Law firms have already noticed that the millennial workforce is on the rise and have adapted to recruiting them when it comes to summer hiring, but they have been slower to do so when it comes to lateral associate recruitment.
Firms that implement strategies that embrace millennial lateral candidate’s characteristics and career goals are most successful in achieving their hiring objectives. Law firms that are going to come out ahead are those that can build alternative career paths into their models and eliminate that stigma of non-partner posts. The risk of such alternative career tracks is that they will prove to be unsatisfactory if lawyers balancing family responsibilities are disproportionately shunted into non-partner positions.

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