By JILL SWITZER
A recent article in the weekend Wall Street Journal had some fascinating points to make about the training and retention of millennials in the banking/investment banking industries, and I think that many of those points apply equally to millennial/newbie lawyers.
Retention is a problem for the finance industry and it is becoming a problem for the legal industry as well. In finance, millennials are leaving, not just to join hedge funds or private equity funds to boost their income, but they’re leaving for startups and other employers where they feel that they won’t just be cogs in wheels, but can actively contribute to the business at hand, rather than the repetitive drudgery of spreadsheets and Power Point stacks. Sound familiar? It should.
We have the same problem in our profession, assigning millennials to document review, drafting and responding to discovery, form documentation work, all the drudgery work that makes up so much of so many lawyers’ lives, and that we all had to do as part of our training. I wonder how many of us would have ever gone to law school had we known how much routine and yes, even boring, paperwork there is, decades into the practice.
In my days, it was Perry Mason and The Defenders (if you’re not familiar with the latter, Google it, a great show) that factored into my thinking to be a lawyer. For newer lawyers, it was probably L.A. Law, The Practice, The Good Wife, among others. How many times, if ever, did we see these TV lawyers slaving over a motion to compel or a motion for summary judgment? How many times, if ever, did we see TV lawyers review files or plead telephonically with the court clerk trying to get that default judgment entered? How many times did we ever see an associate breathlessly run into the partner’s office, having found a case on all fours? “None” is the number that comes to my mind. Yours? These tasks are all part of a lawyer’s job, like them or not.
So, what do we do to train and retain lawyers? Practical skills training in law school only get the students so far. What the Journal found in numerous interviews was a tension between hierarchical culture and the desire for the younger employees to have more substantive work earlier in their careers. So, is the concept of “paying your dues,” e.g. doing the crap work that the senior lawyers had to do early in their careers, still viable? “I had to do it, so you do, too.” (Don’t get me started on the California Bar Exam being reduced from three days to two starting in 2017… talk about a rite of passage….)
The problem with the philosophy of “suck it up, this is the way it’s always been” is that it doesn’t seem to really work with millennials. By lengthening the partnership/shareholder track at many firms and with no guarantee of eventual success in that arena, aren’t millennials going their own way, using whatever training they’ve received and setting up their own firms, making their own rules (and hourly rates) and getting that substantive, hands-on client experience much sooner? Why not put early career lawyers in front of clients sooner? Oops, I forgot, law firms are so risk-averse that they’d rather just submit on the pleadings than give associates a chance to argue a motion in court.
Look at the Deloitte Touche 2016 Millennial Survey, “Winning Over The Next Generation of Leaders.” It takes the global pulse of how millennials regard the business world and their places in it. Although not specific to the legal profession and not specific to the United States, there’s much for the legal profession to think about in training our next generation of leaders.
Like it or not, believe it or not, we dinosaurs are headed for our own individual variations of extinction, be it disability, retirement, death, or Johnny Paycheck’s “take this job and shove it.” So, our obligation, whether we like it or not, whether we can afford to or not (and I don’t mean just financially) is to train the new generation of lawyers.
The Deloitte survey found that millennials feel underutilized and that they are not being developed as leaders. As a result, they feel no loyalty to their current employers and more than one-quarter of them already have one foot out the door. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed believe that their leadership skills are not being developed. Millennials in the survey have a “people first,” rather than “profit first” mentality. Is that philosophy sustainable in this 21st century “eat what you kill” market? The Deloitte survey seems to say that the two are not necessarily incompatible, as millennials “…recognize the importance of ensuring the long-term success of a business and its ability to support and create jobs.”
It should come as no surprise that millennials value mentoring as critical to success. Those who have mentors are more than twice as likely to stay with the organization. The more satisfied they are with learning opportunities and professional development programs, the more likely they are to stay. Yet, in a dismal note, less than one-quarter (yes, you read that correctly) of millennials are “very satisfied” with these opportunities and programs.
Millennials prefer a creative, collaborative culture, rather than one that is authoritarian, e.g. command and control. They want flexibility in when they work as well as where, but they need and want mentors. When I started practicing in dinosaur days, I was lucky enough to have some mentors in my various professional iterations. (They were all men; that’s not a complaint, that’s the way it was all those years ago.)
Just as I have always told clients that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, we need to tell millennials/newbie lawyers that they should never hesitate to ask. We need to be there as resources and share our accumulated wisdom (yes, we do have some) as they hack their way through legal and ethical thickets. Pencils down, dinosaurs. Our time is running out.
To read more: http://abovethelaw.com/2016/04/old-lady-lawyer-what-do-millennials-want/?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=28449743&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–CYslSngJQJjDTSTPNjBSTeltFsf7HXbLVXLlS4zWof4FTtr9U5eROL8stpvJ9vgUKvljpp2w639ervOEC4VgMVw9kkg&_hsmi=28449743