Why Millennial Attorneys Will Make or Break Your Law Firm’s Profitability (and What You Can Do About It) – Part 2

“Millennials are altering the very social fabric of America and the world.”

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO, Gallup, Inc. 

In Part 1 of this post, we examined how the culture of your law firm impacts your profitability. We focused on Millennials because, according to the ABA, Millennials will make up 75% of law firm staff by the end of this decade. In this post, we’ll review research published by Gallup, Inc. that identified six specific areas of organizational culture and how those areas must change in order to attract and retain the best and brightest in the years ahead. Gallup calls them the “Big Six.”

1. It’s not just about the money. Millennials want purpose.

The idea that money isn’t the only motivator for many people is not a new one. In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink explains that money can actually be demotivating – depending upon how it is used. This concept has proven true time after time based on years of behavioral and motivational research. I’m not saying, nor is the Gallup research suggesting, that money isn’t important. It is. But money, alone, isn’t enough. Millennials want purpose and meaning from the work they do.

Forget the lawyer jokes. Every day lawyers are making positive differences in the lives of their clients and in the world. Millennial lawyers, in particular, want to make a difference. Think about that for a moment. Look for ways your firm can tap into this desire. It can be anything from providing the time for attorneys to volunteer with legal aid organizations to supporting organizations that are addressing concerns of people in the firm. These organizations don’t necessarily need to be legally focused. They can be organizations that support a variety of causes from global green initiatives to your local animal shelter. 

2. Millennials want development.

According to a December 2019 report from Gallup, “What High-Performance Workplaces Do Differently,” organizations that make strategic investments in employee development report 21% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees. 21 PERCENT! That same report found that with respect to Millennials, nearly nine in 10 Millennials say professional development or career growth opportunities are very important to them in a job.

Use this guide to take control of your firm’s finances and increase profitability.

Millennials want professional development opportunities because they want to make a contribution immediately. Many are simply not going to accept the traditional path to partnership. Consider how this might inform your firm’s partnership track. What worked for Boomers, in terms of “waiting your turn,” will not work with Millennials. They want to make a difference now. If they cannot make that difference at your firm, they won’t hesitate to leave. 

3. Coaches, not bosses.

It follows naturally that if Millennials want development, they also want coaching. This should be music to the ears of more experienced attorneys who speak with enthusiasm about the value of mentorship. The type of coaching that Gallup refers to is very different from the “sink or swim” approach many Boomers like to reminisce about. “I remember when I started out, my senior partner said, “Here’s the file. Go cover that depo.”  While this is not the story for all Boomers, and many can tell different stories, it is all too common. The approach may work for some, but it is not going to create engaged Millennial attorneys. In her book, You Raised Us – Now Work With Us: Millennials, Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams, Lauren Stiller Rikleen explains exactly what Millennials want from a coach. 

They want you to specifically explain what they’re doing right (appreciation) and what could be better (advancement). They’re asking for you to pay attention to their career. They’re asking for coaching—something they’ve been given their whole lives. They expect it. They don’t see the need for coaching as a sign of weakness, but as a path to greatness. Give them the feedback they want (in the way they want it!), so they can exceed your expectations.

Millennial attorneys want to excel. How can your firm provide the coaching and mentorship they need to do just that? I’m betting you have attorneys in your firm who would love to take on this challenge.

4. Conversations, not annual evaluations.

Millennials want ongoing conversations about their performance rather than annual evaluations. Ditch the yearly evaluations. Think instead of ongoing conversations. I realize this idea can feel particularly uncomfortable in a culture that has relied on yearly evaluations for decades. But I have never been a fan of annual employee evaluations. Below are just a couple of reasons why.

First, annual reviews don’t give you the opportunity to acknowledge what people are doing well in the moment. This type of “in the moment” feedback is very powerful, both in acknowledging superior performance and pointing out potential problems. You may already be engaging in these types of conversations with your attorneys (and staff). But are they part of your firm’s review policy? If not, consider encouraging your supervising attorneys to have quarterly, monthly, or even weekly, conversations focused on professional development. These conversations can be guided by written professional development plans created in collaboration with the individual.

Second, most annual reviews are tied to compensation rather than professional development. Anyone who has ever experienced this type of annual review knows how stressful and even demotivating it can be. When feedback is linked to pay, it can become even more difficult to hear constructive criticism because of our instinctive desire to defend our behavior. Not to mention the stress of it all. 

An article from Harvard Business Review online sums up the situation perfectly.

Performance reviews that are tied to compensation create a blame-oriented culture. It’s well known that they reinforce hierarchy, undermine collegiality, work against cooperative problem solving, discourage straight talk, and too easily become politicized. They’re self-defeating and demoralizing for all concerned. Even high performers suffer, because when their pay bumps up against the top of the salary range, their supervisors have to stop giving them raises, regardless of achievement.

A small fraction of U.S. companies – mainly startups – have ditched the annual review in favor of conversations or quarterly meetings. And this trend is slowly gaining traction in BigLaw. But regardless of the size of your firm, consider this new approach to employee evaluations.

5. Focus on strengths, not weaknesses.

Focusing on strengths, not weaknesses is the approach I take when coaching my clients. I am not suggesting that weaknesses should be ignored, but they should not be the focus of our development. Rather than identifying weaknesses and continually working on them, identify one weakness that, if improved, would have the biggest impact on a person’s overall performance. Work on that. If there is more than one area, tackle them one at a time. There is sound reasoning behind this approach – for everyone – not just Millennials. Extensive research by Gallup has shown that that weaknesses never develop into strengths, while strengths develop infinitely.

Consider this approach when creating professional development plans with your people, and look for ways to minimize weaknesses and maximize strengths. You may also want to consider using assessments like DISC or other assessments to help employees identify their strengths (and weaknesses) and create plans to develop their full potential.

6. Not work-life balance, work-life blending.

For Millennials, it’s not about work-life balance. For Millennials, their work is their life. As discussed above, Millennials want their work to have purpose and meaning. They want to make a contribution. But they are not willing to sacrifice their lives in the process. This generation has grown up with technology. They don’t see it as a tether to the office, but as a tool that can be leveraged to help them work more effectively wherever they are.

Millennials want the ability to blend their work and their lives. They want autonomy and flexibility in how they work – whether in the office or at home. Millennials are not alone in this. Employees from all generations are seeking flexibility in their work schedules. There are a number of working arrangements law firms can provide in order to meet the needs of all employees, not just Millennials. These arrangements range from working virtually from home to part-time schedules to alternative schedules, which allow work outside the typical workday. While some Boomers may bristle at the idea of work-life blending and flexible schedules, it all comes back around to profitability. A study by PwC Global found that “Millennials do not believe that productivity should be measured by the number of hours worked at the office, but by the output of the work performed. They view work as a ‘thing’ and not a ‘place.’” If your firm can meet the needs of your Millennial attorneys by providing flexible work arrangements, they will likely be much more productive and profitable. 

Conclusion

Now you know why your law firm’s culture is so important to both profitability AND the wellbeing of your people. You know what Millennials want and how to help them be successful, productive, and profitable. You know the six things that Gallup’s research demonstrates are critical to business success in the decade ahead. Now it’s up to you. 

It will take courage and hard work to implement the changes outlined here. But the investment will be worth it. Decide on one change, one innovation to make to your firm, then set about to do it. Take it one step at a time. Be consistent. You will get there, and your firm will reap the rewards.

Resources

Click on the links below to download any of resources cited in this post.

Building a High-Development Culture Through Your Employee Engagement Strategy, Gallup

How Millennials Want to Work and Live: The Big Six Changes Leaders Have to Make, Gallup

PwC’s Global NextGen Survey, PwC

State of the American Workplace, Gallup

About The Author

Nora Riva Bergman is a law firm coach and author. She is the founder of Real Life Practice and a certified Atticus Practice Advisor. As a licensed attorney since 1992, Nora brings a deep understanding of the practice and business of law to her work with lawyers, law firms, and bar associations across the country. She has practiced as an employment law attorney and certified mediator and has served as an adjunct professor at both Stetson University College of Law and the University of South Florida. Nora is a graduate of Villanova University’s Lean Six Sigma Program and teaches a course on Lean for Lawyers at Solo Practice University. She is the author of, 50 Lessons for Lawyers: Earn More – Stress Less – Be Awesome and 50 Lessons for Women Lawyers – From Women Lawyers, both available on Amazon.com.





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