Much has been written about the millennial generation and its impact on the workplace in general. But what, specifically, can you do as a law firm to engage with this demographic group? And what changes can you make to ensure you're recruiting and retaining the very best of Generation Y?
There is no firm agreement on who is and who isn't a millennial, but in loose terms it is someone born between the early part of the 1980s and the late 1990s/early 2000s. This demographic cohort is also known popularly as Generation Y, following as it does Generation X and preceding Generation Z.
This is an area of fierce debate. Critics see millennials as narcissistic, entitled and disloyal. They are perceived as self-centred, work-shy job hoppers. The Daily Mail have characterised millennials as "spoilt, full of themselves, averse to hard work and expect 'success on a plate'".
Others are more generous, citing their entrepreneurial spirit, civic mindedness and strong desire to find meaning and fulfilment through their chosen careers.
Both sides do agree, however, that millennials have been influenced more than any preceding generation by the all-pervading influence of technology – particularly social media.
What impact does all this have on the way law firms recruit, develop and manage millennial solicitors? To answer, we'll focus on six qualities said to characterise millennials and outline some steps you can take as an employer to get the most from this generation.
Perception: Millennials are impatient and want to be recognised early in their career. Often called the "We Want It Now" generation, they want instant gratification, mirroring to some extent the rise of on-demand 24/7 mass media.
Millennials are said to be less risk averse than previous generations and much more career mobile. Their predecessors might have been more prepared to keep their heads down and be patient, whereas millennials tend to be more vocal about what they want.
As an employer, clearly articulate what a successful career path looks like within your company. Put emphasis on how millennials can get from A to B, B to C, and ultimately to Z. Don't limit performance reviews to once-a-year events, but provide regular updates utilising roadmaps and progress charts.
As a law firm, you have an advantage over many other sectors. Legal careers typical are well-structured and linear. But it's important to bring this to life on a regular basis and in a visually inspiring way.
Perception: Millennials prefer flatter organisational structures and less dictatorial-style leadership.
Many millennial candidates express a lack of understanding about the role and the firm offering it. Hiring managers and HR professionals need to spend more time articulating both these aspects.
The recruitment process is no longer a one-way street. You may need to work harder on selling the benefits of a career with your company, speaking in depth about the role and the opportunity it represents.
Millennials now have access to a lot more information about what it's like to work for a company through peer-to-peer review websites such as Glassdoor. Take the opportunity to dispel any myths that may have developed.
Once in the organisation, millennials like to be stretched and challenged but also encouraged and supported. Line managers need to hone their people skills and adopt a less dictatorial and more inclusive management style.
Perception: Millennials value the ability to work flexibly rather than the traditional 9-to-5 pattern.
They appreciate the option of working remotely and outside traditional office hours. With the impact of technology there are less and less reasons why people need to sit behind an office desk and work rigidly between the hours of nine and five.
While older generations may be quite comfortable in continuing to follow this traditional approach, many millennials see it as outdated and unnecessary.
As a law firm, your billable hours structure is well suited to trialling more flexible working patterns. Results are easy to measure, and it will become obvious quite quickly if productivity begins to decline.
However, legal partnerships are notoriously slow to embrace change. Arguably the working patterns of many solicitors remain unchanged since the nineteenth century.
If you haven't already, you need to invest in technology to enable true flexible working. Your computer systems and servers should be accessible remotely, ideally hosted in the cloud. Your phone systems should be the same.
Once done, you can trial a range of flexible working options - earlier starts, later finishes, compressed hours. If people need to take time off for a doctor’s appointment, allow them to make up the later in the working week rather than having to take a holiday. If a member of staff needs to stay at home for a delivery, give them the option to work from home.
At the heart of any successful flexible working policy is not simply technology but trust. Trusting people to do the work.
Flexible working focuses on results rather than where and when the work is done. Not only does this approach appeal to millennials, it's particularly powerful in attracting solicitors back to the legal sector after taking a break to start a family.
Ultimately, a progressive and enlightened flexible working policy can be a great way for you to differentiate yourself from your competitors, and in doing so attract the best talent. It's a vital tool in a tight market.
Perception: Millennials want to have an open, transparent and honest relationship with their managers and co-workers.
Transparency in the workplace means sharing trusts about the company, providing honest feedback on performance, and encouraging two-way communication. If we put store in millennials' reputation as 'job hoppers' it's inevitable that some will leave your business.
Exit interviews, if handled properly, can be great opportunities to discover valuable ways in which you can improve your recruitment process and enhance your working environment.
Don't just pay lip service to the process. Take the feedback seriously and assess whether positive changes can be made.
Perception: Millennials enjoy a working style focused more on people than processes.
You can encourage collaboration with your business in two main ways:
a. Across departments - this can increase productivity, help generate new ideas and creates a more exciting environment.
b. Between generations - mentoring programmes, project groups and similar initiatives are a great way to bring people together and ensure different generations learn from each other.
Gone are the days when knowledge transfer within businesses was simply top down. Particularly with the pervasive role technology now plays, experienced solicitors can learn a lot from their millennial counterparts.
Collaboration is a powerful tool in sharing best practice and improving productivity and efficiency. Traditionally dominated by partners, it is an area in which many law firms could improve.
Perception: Millennials are said to have a stronger sense of civic responsibility and community spirit than previous generations.
When researching prospective employers, millennials will often look beyond the traditional indicators of corporate success. While the financial performance of a company is still important, Millennials often put great store in your firm's approach to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) - its charitable activities and how you engage with the wider community.
Do you have regular volunteering days? How do you support your local community?
CSR initiatives is an important part of creating a distinct and positive company culture. It is value-driven and helps employees feel part of something bigger and more meaningful.
In May 2017 Ipsos Mori published a report entitled “Millennial Myths and Realities". The report attempts to explode the negative myths that have built up in recent years, suggesting that “there are very limited differences in attitude, motivation and loyalty in the workplace between millennials and rest of us”.
It concludes that “millennials are young, and they behave like all young people did before them.” Whether millennials are radically different from previous generations is, in many ways, a moot point.
As employers, shouldn’t we be aiming to create a more progressive, innovative and enlightened working environment regardless? Law firms should already be striving for greater flexible working, better internal collaboration, improved communication and stronger links with local and global communities.
This is how to recruit and retain the best people, improve productivity and deliver fantastic service to clients. Not just for millennials but for the generations preceding them and for the generations to come.