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The article below has been republished in full courtesy of Law360, written by Matthew Bultman.
Running a major law firm has always had its challenges, but firm leaders in recent years have found themselves facing a new question: how to best manage millennials, a tech-savvy generation that values flexibility and wants meaning in work.The truth of stereotypes around millennials — that they’re entitled, job hoppers, nonconformist — is debatable. But what is true, according to the Pew Research Center, is that the generation now makes up the largest section of the workforce. That means it’s important for managers to understand how to bridge the generational divide and figure out how to manage these young lawyers.“You can’t keep things status quo or business as usual,” said Micah Buchdahl, the president of law marketing company HTMLawyers Inc. “There is a realization in BigLaw that you have to make these shifts if you’re going to attract the same caliber of talent you always have. A failure to do that will not put you in the market for the best talent that’s out there.”Here are some ways law firms can adapt and best manage millennials.Realize They’ll Probably LeaveMillennials, the group born between roughly the early 1980s and the year 2000, have had a rough go of it in the professional world.Job creation slowed and unemployment was high when many started to graduate with their expensive law degrees. They lived through the Great Recession, watching as their friends and family got laid off, promotions stalled and hiring freezes took effect.So is it any surprise they’re hesitant to stay committed to an organization?“They realized that even when you work hard for your employer, it doesn’t always guarantee that your employer owes you that same loyalty back,” said Michelle Silverthorn, the director of diversity and education at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.In the past, law firms hired lawyers who believed they would put in their dues and one day, many years down the road, might become a shareholder. Now, Buchdahl said, it’s extremely rare an attorney will walk into a law firm and walk out 30 years later.Law firm leaders should, and in most cases have, begun to plan accordingly.“Nobody on either side believes you’re coming in for life,” Buchdahl said. “The expectation is you’re going to take a job and get experience, and take another job and get more experience.”Give Them FeedbackGrowing up with the internet at their fingertips, millennials have become accustomed to instant gratification and quick feedback. Experts said they are looking for something similar in the workplace.Law firms shouldn’t wait until the annual performance review to unload praises and criticisms. Ursula Furi-Perry, a partner at Dill & Furi-Perry LLP and director of Academic Excellence at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, said it’s important to give regular and structured feedback.“Millennials want their managers to be accessible and be there for feedback and answering pointed questions,” she said.Furi-Perry, who wrote the book “The Millennial Lawyer,” said this goes hand in hand with providing guidance on how young lawyers can advance in the firm. Managers should be clear about what is expected and what skills or competencies they need to obtain.“Openness, transparency, clarity; that is really how millennials like to approach jobs,” added Silverthorn.And remember, millennials are team players. Their parents may have doted and heaped praise on them, but Silverthorn said they believe in group trust. And they want to be involved.“They don’t want to just follow direction,” she said. “They want input on direction, they want to see where the company is going and why they’re going there.”Give Them MeaningResearch shows millennials are the most educated generation in history. But after investing all those years in school, they want to work for a purpose and they want to know their education is paying off.“Millennials want to work, they’re happy working, but they want to find meaning in work,” said Silverthorn."It’s hard to find meaning when you’re redlining contracts 15 hours a day,” she added.Furi-Perry said managers can help by taking some time to explain how their work plays into the bigger picture. If a young attorney is working on a discovery project, for instance, take a few seconds to talk about how this fits into the entire case.“It’s a small sacrifice for a manager that allows the millennial to feel like they are contributing to the greater good,” she said.Aside from finding meaning in the work itself, millennials will sometimes find purpose in learning from a particular work experience. To that end, Silverthorn said, firms should consider what professional development opportunities they are offering to young attorneys.Some firms are already ahead of the curve.Proskauer Rose LLP, for instance, began running its first-year associates through a training program that teaches business finance and accounting in the same way first-year bankers are taught the business. And Cozen O'Connor created a “litigation pool” for first-year attorneys, which allows them to work in more than one practice group.Embrace Their Love of TechnologyTech savvy. It’s one of the first things that comes to mind when talking about millennials.Emails, texts and instant messaging are often the preferred methods of communication, sometimes at the expense of face-to-face conversations. Buchdahl said it’s not uncommon to hear attorneys talk about having a huge client they’ve never actually met.And that’s okay.“It really doesn’t mean communication in the workplace is being eradicated,” Silverthorn said. “It means it’s now being redefined.”But the way people communicate isn’t the only thing that’s changing. Millennials grew up in a world where they could snap a picture and share it on Facebook, curate music playlists and watch their favorite television shows on demand.There is an expectation of having the most modern technology at their fingertips, whether it's the latest gadget, the most advanced software or an open workspace that can help to foster collaboration.“Millennials have been at the forefront of every technology change in their personal life and they want that in their work life as well,” Silverthorn said.Give Them FlexibilityAsk a baby boomer or someone from Generation X the secret to work-life balance, and the standard response, Buchdahl said, would be “get a good nanny.”But millennials aren’t interested in that. They are looking for opportunities to work from home, or to duck out of the office earlier in the day. They want flexible hours, and maybe some time to squeeze in a spin class.Work is where the Wi-Fi is, and experts said law firms need to be willing to offer their young lawyers alternative arrangements.“When older generations hear ‘flexible,’ they think it means working less,” said Furi-Perry. “But it means being able to work on their own terms, being able to perhaps forgo some of the face time but spend a couple hours working at home at night and having time for the things you want to do.”How important is flexibility to younger lawyers?Buchdahl highlighted one woman who gave up a job in BigLaw not long after becoming a partner, choosing instead to take an in-house position at a company in Philadelphia. The new job paid less, but it offered more flexibility in terms of work-life benefits.“One of the millennial traits that often comes out is the dollar is not the driving force,” he said. “So people are really looking closer at other elements and components.”
The above article has been republished in full and is courtesy of Law360. For the latest breaking news and analysis on energy industry legal issues, visit Law360 today.