In today’s rapidly paced world, it seems everything is changing. However, one area has lagged and been quite resistant to change over the course of the past few decades, and that is law firm culture and practice processes. Law firms have traditionally been steeped in long-standing traditions and policies. In the next few short years, all of that is about to dramatically change.
The generation of Millennials is entering the legal workforce and, in some cases, even its management ranks. Millenials are those born from 1980–1999. According to U.S. Census data, this group is more than 80 million Americans strong, making them the single-largest identified population segment in history. Like every generation, Millenials’ general characteristics and perspectives have been significantly influenced by the economic and socio-political landscape they experienced throughout their childhood. For the most part, this generation experienced a period of general economic prosperity, were the first generation to experience true globalization and the advent of the Internet, and the birth of reality TV, just to name a few influences.
Those influences and others lead to some pretty unique attributes, which seem to be universally shared by the generation. Millennials are considered to be well-educated, team players, and social creatures who crave personal recognition and attention. They are considered by many to be the most technologically savvy group to enter the workforce to date, and generally expect diversity as a norm. Millenials tend to have very close relationships with family, and work/life balance is not a request but an absolute necessity. They are so committed to this latter point that in certain instances, they are willing to forego more money and responsibility in favor of increased freedom, personal space, and time.
In the past few years we’ve seen radical change to the business practices within many corporate environments, which have been largely influenced by the Millennial mindset. Many of the hugely successful technology companies have found ways to harness this change and the opportunities it presents. Companies such as Google, Apple, and Facebook have adapted, and in many cases have had their success fueled by the innovation and advantages they receive by incorporating employee values and using their talent to full potential.
What does all this mean for the legal profession? For starters, Millennials are now coming of age to enter the legal profession post-law school. This enormous, creative, and extremely influential group is entering a profession that is challenged to find ways to adapt to the changing environment of legal needs. Problem-solving and creatively dealing with challenges efficiently is arguably what Millennials do best. It’s up to law firm leadership to recognize such talent, and create a culture that encourages open thought processes and capitalizes on those abilities. In the end, it can only serve to benefit all involved.
So what are some techniques to create a more inclusive environment across all generations of employees?
Here are some thoughts:
- Develop team-based approaches toward matters
Incorporating a team environment not only increases participation by all members, but also leverages the various skills and resources of every group.
- Increase diversity
Having a diverse team offers the greatest potential of free thought and creative perspective. Diversity is no longer just the right thing to do, but has become a business imperative and is expected by younger members of your workforce… and your clients.
- Establish well-organized mentoring programs
Every generation has much to contribute and brings something different to the table. Pairing your most experienced members (who may no longer be interested in an around-the-clock work schedule) with newer, eager, and enthusiastic talent provides a wonderful mechanism for both to learn from each other and feel engaged.
- Allow for some flexibility in work schedules or life events
Understand that certain generations may not share your priorities when it comes to decisions of work/life balance. Not only will your employees appreciate the acknowledgement, but chances are they will work harder and more efficiently when put to task.
- Make sure your technology is current
Having the right technology is critical to the efficient operation of any business. Current, if not cutting-edge, technology is expected by younger generations and will yield the greatest results. Consider it as an investment in your people, not your infrastructure.
- Increase communication and transparency
When everyone understands the common goals and rationale, then all will be more engaged and compelled to contribute. Make time to have a dialog with your workforce and allow for some input in developing those common goals.
- Establish ongoing feedback mechanisms
Every generation benefits from constructive feedback on a regular basis. Consider implementing more casual methods that allow for those interactions on a more frequent basis than the bi-annual review. Awards and recognition are a great way to positively effect the work environment.
Other industries have found tremendous success in creating engaged work environments and utilizing their human capital to its fullest potential. The legal profession is the latest example of an industry ripe to take advantage of such a fully engaged and promising wave of change on the horizon.
About the Author
Bill Ferreira is the founder of Ferreira Law, LLC in Morristown, NJ and is a member of the American Bar Association Board of Governors. Follow Bill on Twitter @maincounsel or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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