According to a Deloitte survey, by 2025 it’s expected that 75% of the global workforce will be millennials – people born between the early 1980s and the year 2000.
Changes in thinking from one generation to the next are to be expected. And in this case, millennials differ from their parents, mostly baby boomers, in their attitudes to work life.
With these generalisations come stereotypes. For millennials, it’s often less than complimentary – laziness, a sense of entitlement and the phrase “snowflake” spring to mind.
But in reality, negative stereotypes are the only lazy thing here. It’s just about difference, and some of these might be seen as positive for employers.
Millennials have been shown to place importance on the reasons they get up for work in the morning. They aren’t living to work or putting up with a job just because it pays the bills – they want to have an impact and the chance to progress.
And, they’re prepared to move on if things aren’t developing at a pace that satisfies these needs - whether that’s within the same industry or in a more forward-thinking one.
They’re also much more familiar with using technology in everyday life. As a “digital-first” generation, they’ve been born into a world where technology bypasses many of the heavily manual processes of the previous generation.
Instantaneous access to information and services is now the norm. Think Netflix, Amazon and Uber. Whereas once, renting a film meant to trip to the local video store, ordering a taxi meant speaking to another human being and buying goods meant you had to leave your house - all of these things can now be done at the touch of a button.
These expectations have permeated the workplace and with only these, more convenient experiences, to go on - millennials are much less tolerant of clunky, cumbersome processes and systems.
To attract and retain millennial employees law firms will need to innovate to match, or better, the Millennial workplace expectations - or face the risk of alienating the future legal workforce.
Millennial workplace expectations
Achieving a better work/life balance is probably not a desire unique to millennials, but some studies have shown they’re certainly more likely to expect it.
Remote or flexible working – something that might be a deal-breaker for a millennial – is not offered by the majority of law firms.
For millennials, this doesn’t necessarily mean working less, but being able to integrate work and home life better. They know that technology makes this much easier, and this brings us to the next point.
Even though they’re a generation well used to technology, the sometimes complex and cumbersome processes involved in the legal profession are not what millennials expect. They’re used to being able to do pretty much anything with a small device they can keep in their pocket.
Their expectations on progress, promotion and hierarchical structures are also very different.
And, in some other industries - tech, for example - flatter structures allow for easier collaboration, agile working practices and can seem more like meritocracies. The perception of law firms and their sometimes archaic hierarchies can conflict with this.
Although millennials have been characterised as job hoppers, it’s questionable whether this is unique to their generation. What is pretty clear is that they expect to be able to try different things. When you have so much choice and opportunity for change in everyday life, it makes sense that you might expect something similar from work.
If the legal profession isn’t seen to be meeting these expectations, the result could well be a skills shortage, adding to other challenges the industry faces.
If you’re not to lose the best talent to other more forward-thinking industries, what’s to be done?
What can law firms do to attract and retain millennials?
Despite offering a relatively stable, challenging, rewarding and meaningful career path for young legal professionals, the industry is not renowned for innovation. Not yet, anyway.
By embracing innovation, law firms will cast off their own stereotypical shackles when it comes to attracting millennial talent and meeting their expectations.
This doesn’t mean adopting new technology for the sake of it. Culture and people are central to innovation – and perhaps this is something that millennial employees can help to deliver in the industry.
But, technology can help to enable innovation. Here are some examples:
By using cloud-based software and systems, legal firms can allow lawyers to work flexibly, at a time that suits them. It also does away with the need for location-dependent working.
This is something we’ve already seen would be a big positive for millennials looking for a career in law. They’d have the opportunity to pursue a challenging and rewarding career, but also getting the work/life balance they crave.
But, this isn’t a change that will happen overnight. Such a culture shift will need careful management as expectations on working practices change.
Technology can be harnessed to improve and streamline internal processes. We know the millennial lawyer will be more used to digital ways of working.
Modern practice management systems can allow them easier access to the information they need and improve user experience. More efficient ways of working mean less time spent on arduous tasks, and more tackling the different challenges millennials crave.
Digitised processes will also benefit clients – who will increasingly be millennials too – by providing them with a much more efficient service.
Teamwork & Collaboration
Improved collaboration through technology can help to enable more agile working practices, meeting the desire of millennials for teamwork and involvement in making a difference.
What’s more, they’ll be able to make a difference quicker than ever before. A digital transformation will create a faster-paced environment in which millennials can thrive.
It’ll also mean a shift away from the top-down hierarchies of a more traditional law firm. Once again, whilst technology has an important role to play, it’s as much about a culture change.
Attracting and retaining top millennial talent is clearly a hurdle the legal profession has to overcome.
Although this may be a threat to the industry, it’s also a huge opportunity. But, only for those firms that are looking to embrace innovation to become more efficient, productive, and competitive.
Once empowered with the ability to make a difference, millennials may even provide a solution to the problem.
Provided their expectations are met, millennial lawyers will probably stick around long enough to be a driving force in the innovation to come.
Join our innovation roadshow to find out more about how innovation can benefit your firm and attract millennial lawyers.