It is not uncommon to hear generational criticisms and stereotypes. However, Dean Andrew Perlman, Professor of Law and Dean of Suffolk University Law School, believes, “[T]here are fewer generational differences than most people think.”
In fact, lawyers from all generations are problem-solvers dedicated to building creative solutions for their clients, but each generation of lawyers may differ in the ways they prefer to work to build those solutions.
A common stereotype about Millennials is that employers need to capture their attention by offering job descriptions that promise “nap pods,” or “free beer.” While this is not entirely inaccurate, it does not truly capture how Millennial lawyers like to work. After speaking with a Millennial lawyer, a forward-thinking Law School Dean, and a legal technical research director, (as well as being a Millennial lawyer myself), I concluded that Millennials want room to build creative solutions to legal and non-legal problems, and they want technology that aids them in doing so.
Opportunity to build creative solutions
While, as I said, all generations of lawyers are problem-solvers, Millennials in particular are known for being innovators. How can law firms and legal departments take advantage of this factor and help Millennial lawyers find ways to build creative solutions? The answer lies in offering meaningful mentorship, finding the right work-life blend, and supplying the needed technology.
Mentorship allows both parties to think about a problem they are trying to solve in different ways. For example, I sought out mentors who had the time to share with me their multidisciplinary perspectives on solving legal and non-legal problems. They helped me, as a student-attorney representing juveniles, notice that there was no master list of community-based resources for juveniles in Massachusetts, even though participation in these resources could help a juvenile avoid gaining a criminal record at a young age.
My mentors also helped me realize I could create a website application to house a master list of resources that were available to everyone involved in the juvenile justice system. Had it not been for my mentors encouraging me to think outside the box, I never would have thought to create a website application. Unfortunately, my Millennial colleagues working inside law firms comment that it is much more difficult to achieve successful mentoring results like this. This is because both they and the partners assigned to mentor them have difficulty finding the necessary time given the pressure to meet billable hour targets.
Dean Perlman believes Millennial lawyers should take the time to think about the actual work being done before jumping in, suggesting that the legal industry should enable and create “an environment where people are judged on their efficiencies and quality of work,” not necessarily on their work schedules and billable hour goals. Incentivizing Millennial lawyers with a better work-life blend can foster creative solutions and could keep them at a firm longer.
Prior to the pandemic, views on the best way to work were largely split along generational lines, with older generations favoring office-based working and younger generations wanting less traditional models. Remote working was a subject of much contention, and many law firms had strict rules limiting it or prohibiting it outright.
Recently, Acritas, now part of Thomas Reuters, conducted a study on the post-pandemic law firm model for the future. Acritas surveyed lawyers, mostly partners nominated by clients as outstanding, regarding their hopes for future working patterns, post-pandemic. The study found that now, all generations of partners are thinking more like Millennials. They want more remote working, fewer working hours, and more flexible work schedules.
Lucy Leach, Technical Research Director at Acritas, believes that based on the data, the pandemic experience has shown older generations the benefits of working remotely. Many of those interviewed were even willing to sacrifice pay to achieve more flexibility. They also represented a significant flight risk for firms if their desires for flexibility cannot be met. The survey showed that older generations now align with Millennials’ view on valuing time over financial compensation.
Prior to the pandemic, generations held differing views on the use of technology and the importance of technology investments. The pandemic forced the legal industry to adapt to remote working technology in one week, for the most part. Everyone had to become innovative problem-solvers with the technology they had, and the gaps between needs and capabilities became very apparent. Not surprisingly, the Acritas study revealed that today, lawyers of all ages perceive that investment in technology should be a top priority for their firm now and in the future.
A Millennial lawyer colleague of mine uses technology to quickly solve administrative tasks like entering billable time with an app on her phone and address more client-specific issues by allowing quick connection with co-workers and clients through collaboration programs. In addition, work-from-home technology allows lawyers to have a more flexible schedule and allows them to work when it is most convenient for them.
Dean Perlman cautions law firms and legal departments to not “overstate the technology that we want people to use… efficiencies can be gained using current technology.” Much of the legal industry already owns tools that can help solve many legal and non-legal issues, but these are often under-used. Law firms and legal departments should do a deep dive into their current technology portfolio to take advantage of what they already have.
All lawyers are problem-solvers regardless of when they were born. Millennial lawyers like to work the same way previous generations do but through different means. Millennials value mentorship, work-life blend, and technology that helps them achieve those goals.