By Victoria Walker, Esq.
VSB Techshow 2020 was to feature a session entitled, “Young Lawyers and Tech: How Everyone Can Learn & Benefit” which will look at how Millennial lawyers are shaping the practice of law. Below are some tips that would have been highlighted in that discussion:
Remember Who Millennials Are
Millennials don’t have the best reputation. They are seen as entitled, selfish, lazy and impatient. While these characterizations may be unfair, it is important to consider how Millennials grew up. Helicopter parenting rose to prominence (or at least earned its moniker) in the early 2000s when the early Millennials, parented by Baby Boomers, started college. Admissions professionals noticed the increasing involvement of parents in every part of the college application, matriculation and graduation processes. Helicopter parents have frequent communication with their children and they maintain a high level of investment and interest in the lives of their children well into adulthood. This upbringing shapes the way Millennials view authoritative figures, including employers.
Now consider the economic landscape Millennial lawyers have had to navigate. Millennials have fewer assets, more debt, and lower income than older generations. Many Millennials weathered the Great Recession better than those who started their careers in the Great Depression because they were able to live with their wealthy (helicopter) parents early in their careers. The way in which Millennial lawyers were raised (more hands-on parenting with frequent two-way feedback) and entered their careers (more debt and lower income) has influenced their workplace expectations. They expect their employers to demonstrate a commitment to their long-term personal and professional success early on, but it takes time for Millennials to commit to their employer’s long-term success.
Your Organization’s Culture Matters
Millennial lawyers are committed to diversity and inclusion (D&I) but these values have broader implications. Young lawyers want to see a change to the “country club” culture that has been a feature of the legal profession for so long. There is an expectation that leaders will walk the talk when it comes to achieving and maintaining D&I, as demonstrated by plans and benchmarks that hold decision makers accountable for meeting organizational D&I goals.
In addition to a commitment to D&I, Millennial lawyers want a workplace that facilitates relationship-building through formal and informal mentorship programs and collaboration. One way to signal to employees that these programs are valuable is by making the time spent bonus-eligible. Do not make your employees choose between billable hours and time with a mentor/mentee. When it comes to collaboration, employers should ensure that opportunities to work closely with partners and other decision makers are made widely and equally available to all employees.
Millennials Value Efficiency
Despite their reputation, Millennials are hard workers but they are always looking for ways to make processes more efficient. The adage “That’s the way things have always been done” is not a sufficient explanation for inefficient processes when it comes to young lawyers. Time wasted on inefficiencies could be better spent on pro bono matters, brand management or other professional development.
Similarly, Millennial lawyers regularly seek feedback on the substance of their work because it allows them to work more efficiently. This habit is often viewed as an inability to work independently but feedback allows young lawyers to improve their work before it is complete as opposed to after. Young lawyers do not want to repeat mistakes or make avoidable mistakes and they are less likely to do so if you tell them why something they have done is wrong and set forth clear expectations. By providing your Millennial lawyers with constructive feedback and guidance, you help shore up their commitment to your organization and facilitate them becoming more efficient lawyers.
Finally, technology plays a role in allowing Millennial lawyers to work more efficiently. From virtual private networks to practice management programs, Millennials embrace the possibilities that are inherent with technology. While their predecessors largely focus on the risks inherent to new technologies, young lawyers tend to focus on the many benefits, such as mobility, automation, connectivity (with colleagues and clients), a better client experience, and lower overhead costs. These are all efficiency benefits that accompany the adoption of technology amongst legal service providers. Create space for your young lawyers to offer suggestions on making processes more efficient, including solutions that are technology-based. When organizations embrace technology and its benefits, they signal to Millennial lawyers that they are committed to working efficiently. This is a winning message for today’s young lawyer.
Victoria Walker, Esq., is Associate Counsel with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington, DC. She also serves on the Board of Governors of the VSB Young Lawyers Conference.