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“To have a firm persuasion of our work - to feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at the exactly same time - is one of the greatest triumphs of human existence.”
- David Whyte Crossing the Unknown Sea, Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity


Millennials are the largest workforce in the U.S., soon to overtake the Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation, according to the Pew Research Center. This poses not only structural changes to how work is done but also deeper philosophical reasons as to why the work is done as it is.

When it comes to law firms, a field that by its very nature approaches change with caution and deliberation, this poses a challenge, especially when it comes to retaining the Millennial talent to carry on the torch of the future of any firm.

Millennials have been complimented, and also criticized, for bringing a new vision to being "lazy". No matter what side of the camp one finds themselves in, the truth is that Millennials and their expectations as a generation needs to be understood and incorporated if the business, especially law firms, are to survive the coming cultural, economic, and environmental changes.

Up-to-date technological systems

Law firms who want to retain their Millennial attorneys have embraced three essential expectations from this generation: technology, flexibility, and mentoring.

Millennials have grown up with technology, and they look to it for answers. They expect up-to-date systems and processes that use seamless technology. This need has even shifted how Millennials work with staff since there’s less reliance on tech know-how as before when Baby Boomers would rely a lot more on their legal assistants to be the point person between them and technology.

Now Millennials expect their firms to provide systems that address not just work productivity but also the complex and nuanced field of data security, data retrieval, storage, and more. Attorneys now are expected not only to understand the law, but also have the know-how to tackle the complexities that technology has brought into the practice of law.

Flexibility in work-life balance

When it comes to work-life balance, Millennials eschew the long hours, the constant stress, and the redundant system of billable hours, that often make for an also toxic office environment. Alongside the need for up-to-date technology, flexibility in work is a close second to the generational difference between attorneys.

Law firms that fail to address this will be very challenged to retain the younger Millennial workforce. Work-life balance is more than flexible hours at the office. It’s about acknowledging different work styles and needs while offering the tools to help the attorneys work smarter - this is where technology is one of its main players, with cloud-based applications, online collaborative platforms, and AI for research. But technology isn’t everything.

Millennials also expect an office culture that offers opportunities for engagement. This is an area where a back to basics in human engagement needs a comeback. Recreational spaces with ping-pong tables to yoga and meditation rooms are some ideas and maybe worth a try, but at the end of the day, what matters is that employees engage at a human level and feel that their voices are heard and that they are also respected as a person, not just another cog in the wheel.

Mentoring and feedback

The old model of mentoring and feedback no longer works with Millennials. They need to feel that their voices are heard, and they prefer more regular check-ins, guidance, and feedback. The hierarchical model of before no longer serves, as Millennials are less taken by obeying because there’s an age or experience differential.

Their view of work is more collaborative, as they have been raised participating in their family decision making processes. It’s best to show interest in their opinions, listen to their input, and make them feel that their voice matters. For them, transparency in communication and open feedback matters when it comes to work engagement and satisfaction.

All of these are relevant and key when making sure your firm is doing all that it can to retain its Millennial talent. However, the core issue is a harder one to address because it’s not an easy one to address, as law firms have been able to bypass this completely for many decades.

It’s more than the what or how - it’s about the Why

Millennials are purpose-driven, and they don’t simply see work as an extension of who they are, but of their values and how they are contributing to the world. They want their work not only to be a means of livelihood but also of personal satisfaction of their values while being a way to contribute to society and the world.

Law firms need to know the why of their practice. Not just what they do and how they do it, but the core why of their business. The why of a business is what makes it more successful in inspiring others to come to them or work for them, while also differentiating themselves from the herd.

It’s the Why that inspires others to take action. It’s not what you do or how you do it, that comes later, but at an emotional level, it’s the why of a business that is the major attractor and retainer of talent.

With Millennials quickly becoming the largest workforce in the world, it’s best to take the lead on this and address that is the Why of your law practice. Deeply look at what is your firm’s social, environmental commitment? Even tap into the origin story of why your firm got started in the first place. Reaching back to the core stories that have driven your law firm towards is often the thread to help you identify what is the Why of your practice.

Figuring out your Why is not an empty exercise. It’s relevant for the longevity and relevance of your firm. Best to dive right in if you haven’t already because if firms don’t address this core issue, the question of your firm’s Why will come via the clients, who will also demand to know that your firm is more than your legal know-how. Clients and the next generation of attorneys who will carry on the baton of the future of your law firm need to be inspired by something more than the bottom line. What will drive your business forward and help it survive the next decades is something that is ineffable and yet at the heart of the issue: it’s your Why.

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The T-Scan team: experts at reducing record retrieval costs and securing information.

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