by Alexis Raihle | April 12, 2019
Millennials: Instant gratification with the least amount of effort. Right? Why do they think they are special? Don’t they know they need to pay their dues just like we did? They don’t even know how to read a book anymore. I am surprised they can handle law school like we did before all their ‘devices’.
Does this sound all too familiar?
This, being the common perception of the Millennial generation, may fit some of its members. However, the Millennials are not a generation where one size fits all. They are in fact the generation that has made diversity and individuality the new norm.
There are 3 times as many Millennials (those born between 1981 – 1996) as there are Generation X-ers (those born between 1965 – 1980). In two short years, over 50% of the workforce will be composed of Millennials; within the next 10 years they will represent nearly 75% of the workforce. In 2017, Millennials represented 25% of the lawyers however, due to the substantial size of the Millennial generation and the rapid rate at which the Baby Boomers are retiring, the Millennials will not only build on the shoulders of the Baby Boomers, they will be laying the foundation for expanding the legal landscape and breaking new ground as well.
There is a misconception about the character, expectations, and potential of the Millennial lawyers. They are often perceived as lazy and having unrealistic expectations of a salary, advancement, and norms of the profession. The truth? Millennial lawyers in fact do not care as much about the big salaries, bonuses, and extravagant social events as the Baby Boomers perceive. They care much more about the environment and culture of the law firm and a healthy work/life balance. Some still desire and pursue the tiers of the traditional law firm hierarchy but many understand this prestige is determined by false indicators. The mindset that sets these Millennials apart is that the millennial lawyers seek advancement and success, but these goals are based on terms that makes sense to them as individuals and that fit within the context of their lives, which are unique from one another.
One size does not fit all lawyers, and technology and newly emerging firm structures have allowed a tremendous amount of diversity among the practice of law. The potential for success, innovation, and owning and operating a solo practice is endless, especially depending on how each millennial defines their success.
How do the Millennials separate themselves from the Baby Boomers? One word: Efficiency.
Millennials live in a world where information is readily available, resources are endless, innovation is constant, and organizational leadership is characterized by a more open and proactive approach. In other words, the firm and the profession can be molded to fit the needs of the lawyers who build it and can be modeled to play off the strengths of its parts rather than the lawyer being bent and broken to fit into the existing hierarchal structure that once defined the legal profession.
Technology has allowed this changing legal landscape and has promoted collaboration, efficiency, and growth that characterize the Millennials. Technology has allowed the solo practices and firms to operate efficiently and have quick, almost unlimited access to resources, case law, and contacts to meet the clients’ or firms’ needs. Collaboration among the legal community has improved because of the communication opportunities technology provides and encourages; lawyers can use technology to contact and conference in other lawyers, clients, courts, and other professionals without ever leaving their office. Millennials can now utilize technology to perform the tasks of a traditional legal secretary, run their entire office from a cell phone and a computer, and cut operation costs.
Because of this technology, the traditional notion of a lawyers’ office has changed. No longer is every law office lined with law books and the ominous oak desk. The Millennials have utilized technology to allow many offices to go “paperless” and legal research tools like Lexis and Westlaw, eliminating the need for the law books that were once stained with coffee rings from the late nights of research by a lawyer. Some Millennials do not even have a traditional office. Instead, they communicate with their clients via email and text message and conduct their business and meetings in a rented space, in their own home, or in a public meeting place. Some do not need an office space, as most of the necessary work can be conducted on their computer and cell phone from their own home.
Law schools have contributed tremendously to this change. Millennials in law school today are taught to do legal research more efficiently using technology and research tools. The traditional law school classroom we envision from The Paper Chase has become a memory and has been replaced with classrooms encouraging hands on experience, collaboration, improved communication, clinical and practical opportunities, moot court competitions, mentorship by recent graduates, emphasis on volunteering, and a focus on the skills of legal writing and advocacy.
Lazy? Unmotivated? Instant gratification? I would beg to differ. I would argue that the Millennial lawyer has changed the legal landscape to accommodate the changing world at a similar pace in the most efficient way possible. Because the world has embraced diversity, collaboration, technology, communication, and free flowing information, the legal landscape has been remodeled to reflect the world that surrounds it.