A lot of research has been undertaken about what millennials are looking for from law firms, but while it is generally agreed that it is crucial for law firms to connect with this generation of lawyers, establishing how to attract and retain them is often a losing battle. So, what do millennials really want?
Law firms should be clear about what they can offer an employee from both a financial and non-financial perspective. Various reports have outlined the importance of non-monetary benefits to millennials, such as agile working and the ability to advance their careers both within and following their departure from that law firm. While many law firms have a lot to offer in this regard, these benefits are often not highlighted at the time of interview.
Conversely, it is also worth noting that, while many firms have taken big steps towards a more balanced approach when it comes to such matters as diversity and work-life balance, in some firms the reality falls short of the marketing pitch. Given the importance placed on non-monetary benefits by millennials, firms should be wary of offering benefits, which in reality are not fully implemented or supported and so may not work effectively in practice for the candidate were they to join the firm.
Research shows us that millennials like to have a clear sense that they are achieving goals and gaining experience on an ongoing basis. Leadership and advancement courses at various career stages are valued by millennials. Currently many firms offer these to mid-level associates deemed to have partnership potential, but firms may want to consider running such courses from an earlier point of time and including a broader base of associates.
Whilst there may be financial and logistical issues at play here, the opportunity to go on secondment both within clients and to other offices within the law firm’s network is likely to be seen as a perk. This is also the case for involvement with business development from a junior level and an opportunity to offer up ideas on improvements that could be made within a team or the firm as a whole. Encouraging associates of all levels to network with their client peers is beneficial both to the associates in terms of involving them in a key area of a lawyer’s role from an early stage, but also to the firm – as those lawyers become more senior, so will their client peers.
Millennials want feedback. As trainees, lawyers generally receive a steady stream of feedback, coupled with (at least) bi-annual reviews. However, this feedback tends to taper off post-qualification and it is, on the whole, rare to receive positive feedback as an associate, other than within the ambit of an annual review (in contrast to negative feedback, which lawyers are rarely shy in giving!). Giving employees more structured and regular feedback (both positive and negative) allows them to not only feel that they are valued, but gives them the opportunity to act on such feedback on an ongoing basis, rather than waiting for an end-of-year review to receive any pointers.
Millennials are likely to want some flexibility to work on an agile basis – from home, the office or the café on the corner. They tend to have more technical knowledge and capability than their predecessors and this means that they are less desk-bound. Firms could look to develop their technical offering to allow this flexibility. The practice of law in City firms is in a large part driven by deadlines, so it is generally not possible to shirk work. Law firms are increasingly showing a level of trust that their associates will do their job, albeit perhaps from elsewhere other than the office.
Millennials look for training and development opportunities and as much of it as possible. In a tech savvy generation, online training methods could be effectively employed by law firms. While it is common practice to involve associates and trainees in the preparation and delivery of training, it is also important for figureheads to impart their considerable knowledge and be seen to place importance on training the next generation, so partners should give as much time to training as they are able to.
Millennials tend to seek faster career advancement and the slow progress up the ladder towards a very small chance of attaining partnership is unlikely to be particularly attractive to a large proportion of this new generation of lawyers. Many will move, whether to other law firms, clients or unrelated industries in order to progress faster. Firms could consider fast-track programs for talented individuals and intermediate or alternative roles or titles for those associates they want to retain long term (noting that many firms already do this to a degree with the senior associate and counsel badges, but these are typically inconsistently used by law firms, across the market).