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Decoding The Millennial Lawyer

Equipped with a fresh outlook, the new generation of lawyers is breaking away from the traditional mold. The change has brought opportunities and challenges in equal measure…

The term “Millennials” (also called Generation Y) is used by demographers and researchers to refer to the group born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s to the year 2000. The millennial generation is credited with ushering in change through entrepreneurial spirit; collaborative attitude; technological know-how; appreciation of diversity at the workplace; ability to multitask; optimism coupled with realism; and a desire to engage in the larger social and public cause(s). Traditionally, lawyers have been resistant to change and this reality was known to be a constant. Today, however, the sluggish, low-tech, individualistic legal market is evolving into a dynamic, high-tech, collaborative one. The emergence of new technology, trends, and the way business is being done have had an impact on the legal profession and lawyers. [For further reading, see The Rise of the Millennial Lawyer (by Jordan Furlong), at https://www.lodlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Millennial-report-soft-copy.pdf]

As is the case with other millennial professionals, millennial lawyer works differently, and needs to be motivated differently. Before embarking on a legal career, the millennial lawyers are keen to know about the work culture, whether they can meet the demands of the work, the flexibility of the work schedule, etc. More importantly, they look for a leader who can also be their mentor and friend; collaboration is preferred over command. The millennial lawyers are comfortable with structure: clear expectations, instructions and regular feedback/assessments; the old approach of “sink or swim,” does not work with the Generation Y. They are also more global and gender equal in their outlook, and consequently bring those qualities to the workplace. While these changes have made the profession more dynamic, a host of challenges have also surfaced. Some challenges are out of one’s control, like competition, but some can be tackled proactively, like keeping up with the technological advancement and understanding what motivates the millennial lawyers. While managing and motivating young lawyers has always been challenging. In recent years, this challenge has magnified, as the “old world” lawyers have to work in tandem with a tech-savvy generation of lawyers that values flexibility and wants to do more meaningful work.

Technology

Technology is changing the way many industries operate; even disrupting some. The startup boom in India originated from the millennial generation which is known to be heavily reliant on technology. The new breed of entrepreneurs is willing to take on the big players in the industry. Technological adeptness and constant connectivity have also empowered the new generation of lawyers to work in an unconventional way. Theirs is the generation which is (arguably) the most technology-savvy. Although the ‘Technology Revolution’ is an entirely different debate, the use of technology by Millennials is having a profound impact on the legal landscape, law firms and corporate legal departments alike. (See Managing The Millennial Lawyer, LexisNexis Blog, available at http://businessoflawblog.com/2016/07/managing-the-millennial-lawyer/). The millennial lawyers know how to leverage their abilities with technology (as also social media) to add value at the workplace. Since in the legal world even the smallest errors may lead to losses or litigation, legal professionals have traditionally spent a lot of time on administrative and repetitive work to minimize those errors. Millennial lawyers are employing technology in new ways to eliminate the inefficiencies in the legal process. Use of technology has also enabled legal professionals to work remotely with law firms/companies employing lawyers on a “consultancy basis” where lawyers have control over hours they work in lieu for a fluctuating salary/incentive.

While the millennial lawyers bring technological advances and a way of thinking that helps in doing a better job; they face challenge in the form of increased client expectations. Legal clients are becoming assertive, sophisticated, and demanding. With easy access to the Internet, potential clients have access to legal information like never before, and expect their lawyers to be proactive and more efficient in offering legal solutions, besides being connected/available at all times. This heightened expectation has put a strain on the lawyer-client relationship in the form of additional pressure on the lawyers to meet these expectations. With technology on everyone’s fingertips, clients also do their independent research and collect reliable as well as unreliable information prior to approaching a lawyer/law firm. In many ways, the erstwhile role of the lawyer to educate the client is now gradually evolving into sorting through the (reliable and unreliable) information the clients may have gathered through their independent research. The millennial lawyers also tend to face challenge from employers who might not be as up to date as them when it comes to technology. So while they may proactively ask their employers to allow them to use their “tech-savvy” to the employer’s advantage — either by creating/revamping a website, or helping to reduce reliance on paper, or establishing social media presence—there are sore points too. In particular, the tendency to extensively use technology to communicate often results in informal communication methods becoming the norm. This approach is not always encouraged, for technology cannot and should not replace all face-to-face communication. Lastly, being familiar with the basics of technology is no longer enough, rather the millennial lawyers are expected to work with technology to enhance their skills across the board from project and financial management to customer relationship and e-disclosure.

Competition

Millennial lawyers are facing a challenge that has been around for years, but is far more pronounced today. The challenge is competition. Professional service providers, like accountants and accounting firms, are now taking on advisory roles that were traditionally performed by lawyers, particularly in the area of tax planning. Competition has also emerged from various other sources over the past decade. Newer smaller law firms are trying to deliver more work at fixed and lower costs. Clients are starting to rely on in-house lawyers to complete tasks that were typically ‘outsourced’ to external lawyers/ law firms. Of late, the role of the in-house legal team has changed rather significantly with increasing amount of work being kept in-house as the pressure to justify external spending gathers momentum.

While the solution to this ever-increasing problem can be elusive, the causes are attributed largely to demographics, economic, and social factors. In recent years, not only have law schools/colleges increased seats, many new law colleges have also opened up. The oversupply of lawyers has meant that now there is more competition for places in law firms/ organizations. Within the industry, law firms are also now competing harder for work, as compared to say a decade before, in part fueled by increased globalisation of the legal sector. With older/senior lawyers retiring much later and the amount of legal work remaining static (or even reducing), there are more lawyers who are willing to do the work. (For further reading, refer How to Manage the Millennial Lawyer, https://www.law360.com/articles/787961/how-to-manage-the-millennial-lawyer). When economy and job creation slows down, many of those who graduate with law degrees, quiet obviously, find the going tough and are often advised to “temper their career and salary expectations”. In the coming years, this competition will only intensify and the young lawyers will have to work hard to remain competitive.

Competition for lawyers, however, is not being influenced by demographic or economic factors only. Experts opine that “attitudes unique to millennial law graduates” have also added to the problem. The ‘fear of missing out’ or the mindset that there is something better out there, is said to be unique to this generation. Young lawyers are accused of frequently changing employment, in part motivated by the appeal of working in different cities, for certain firms/organizations, and in certain type of practices/areas etc. Millennials are said to be satisfied with working short-term stints until an “ideal” practice comes their way, without realizing the importance and value of finding what they can get. As a consequence, young lawyers are feeling the pressure to differentiate themselves from others in the legal market. Ironically, the skills that can set them apart from their peers are not easy to develop when starting out in the legal profession. Enhancing one’s professional profile; being able to offer a wider range of legal services; being knowledgeable about other jurisdiction laws, etc., are all part of the professional development for which new generation of lawyers are now expected to strive for.

 Quality of Work/Context Matters

Millennials want to be given opportunities to do interesting work that ‘makes a difference’ and get recognition for the same. To cite an example, being instructed/directed to “research a particular point of law and prepare an annotated brief on the subject” is not well-received. Rather, millennial lawyers want to know about the case/matter, why the research is crucial for the case, and how it will be used. Similarly, instead of receiving a document back with few instructions on how to improve it, they prefer to discuss how the work was received (and perceived), reasons for making the change(s), and how the changes make the document/information more useful in relation to the case. The aim is to learn and grow from the process of performing the work (For further reading, see Retaining Millennials at Law Firms Requires Change, National Law Review, at https://www.natlawreview.com/article/retaining-millennials-law-firms-requires-change) In perhaps a departure from the prior generation, the new generation of lawyers want to take on ‘interesting’ work and also get meaningful and constructive feedback for the same. There is an undeniable urge to take on more substantial work sooner than it is often given to them.

Work-life Balance

Working gruelling hours and performing many mundane tasks has long been synonymous with lawyers. But an entire generation of lawyers now wants something different. For many millennial lawyers’, the 24/7 work culture is not appealing. Interestingly, they seek a seemingly dichotomous work-life balance! Working round the clock is not what motivates many young lawyers today. According to a report from Deloitte consultancy, “millennials are more interested in people than in money, prefer collaborative working structures and value being able to work irregular hours as it suits them” (See No more Long Work Hours for Millennial Lawyers, Financial Times, at https://www.ft.com/content/667cd618-5f0f-11e6-ae3f-77baadeb1c93).

A career that fits seamlessly into their lives (and vice versa)’ is the new mantra. If finding the balance between the two is not tenable, then it is about finding a work culture that allows them to integrate work and non-work-related demands simultaneously. This is why built-in flexibility is being preferred over the conventional scheduled time off. At the cost of being seen as “rebelling” in seeking a better balance, millennial lawyers prefer flexible working unlike any other generation. But are the traditional law firms/lawyers taking note of this gradual shift? Because unless they do, given the growth in complex business transactions, it will become increasingly difficult for them to retain a “new wave of corporate lawyers” who insist on a better work-life balance.

Motivating Millennials

What used to motivate older generations of lawyers does not necessarily motivates millennial lawyers. They have a set of expectations and priorities that are strikingly different from the previous generations. A desire to be a part of “the process,” as also prospects for personal growth, are what motivates the new breed of lawyers. They have strong entrepreneurial tendencies, and If they do not feel they are growing in a law firm/organization, they will be more inclined to move as compared to their older peers. Mentoring (and coaching) is preferred over being “bossed” or being simply told/directed what to do. In other words, mentorship is valued over having a boss; and collaboration over hierarchy. Being involved in decision-making, receiving regular feedback, and a workplace that respects their values have also emerged as motivating factors.

Learning and growing through the experience of doing the work, as opposed to just getting the job done, is the hallmark of the millennials. The “Generation Why” expects that the value in whatever they are being asked to contribute is connected to the overall work. Simply stated, for staying motivated, millennials need to feel that they are valued and are making a difference at work. For seasoned senior lawyers/legal professionals, motivating the next generation of lawyers requires a new mindset– by doing away with “this is the way it has always been” approach and embracing the change. (For further reading, refer Motivating Millennial Lawyers: More About Possibility Than Precedent, at http://theglasshammer.com/2017/05/04/millennial-lawyers-motivating/)

Role of Social Media

For many professionals, social media has been part of daily life for nearly a decade. Although initially there was skepticism about the value of social media, over the years it has managed to permeate into our personal and professional culture. Lawyers are now using social media for career development, networking, client development, current awareness etc. Professional online networks have been popular with business professionals for a long time. Millennial lawyers too realize the benefits of social platforms and are actively engaging on the same. An increasing number of lawyers and law firms have presence on LinkedIn and are using social media (like Facebook and Twitter) for professional purposes. More importantly, social platforms have also emerged as gateways to the news, and news about the legal profession is no exception. Lawyers can and are building their reputation as industry (thought) leaders by sharing and commenting on the latest news in their area of practice.

Does it make you a better lawyer if you can use the social media effectively, be it through blogging and/or the many personal and professional sites? The answer is in the negative. But it cannot be denied that social media does provide a cost- effective and personalized way to communicate with clients (and potential clients), connect with professionals/colleagues globally; and stay in sync with industry changes with ease.

Endnote

The ability to move out of the comfort zone and harmonize with other areas has become vital for millennial lawyers. Irrespective of the area of specialization/expertise, they are expected to have an understanding of the larger context, to be able to advise clients effectively and qualitatively.  In particular, as in-house legal teams of private businesses/companies grow, lawyers are being expected to integrate with the wider business, and that is possible only if their understanding goes beyond their area of expertise. There is an expectation from the millennial generation to think out of the box, act commercially, and keep the bigger picture in mind, ie, being a “specialist generalist”. Experts and surveys indicate that millennials will not only inhabit but also lead the law departments and law firms of tomorrow. The generational transition has infact already begun. Clients are millennial too and learning to work with what they want, is important. The Generation Y and the organisations they represent are setting the pace in the new legal market. Those who recognize and appreciate this sooner will be best positioned to understand and compete in the new legal market.

Richa has over 10 years of experience in legal writing and editing. She completed her Masters (LL M) in Commercial Laws from the London School of Economics and Political Science and is a qualified Solicitor in England and Wales. Richa started her career with SNG & Partners, an established pan India banking law firm. She went on to pursue her keen interest in legal research and writing as the Senior Legal Editor with LexisNexis India Her subsequent stint as the Consulting Editor of Lex Witness, India’s first Magazine on Legal and Corporate Affairs, honed her analytical understanding of legal subjects. She was also involved with setting up of Live Law. A mother of two young children, Richa is currently based with her family in Singapore.  

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