by Virginia Grant and Marci M. Krufka
It's a battle to recruit and retain the best and brightest. To win, law firms must understand what motivates a new generation of lawyers who have different definitions of success.
Young lawyers today are very different from their predecessors of the 1970s. Oh, how things have changed in the past 30 years. And how they will continue to change, as law firms come up against increasing numbers of a new brand of associates.
Today's law firms must ask: How do you recruit, retain and satisfy a generation of associates who were born in the fast lane? How do you motivate and reward a generation accustomed to instant access to practically everything? How do you structure compensation for those whose standard of living includes $2 bottles of water and $4 cups of coffee? How do you bridge the generational divide between associates and partners when their values and expectations are poles apart?
The first critical step is to recognize the differences that exist between 21st-century associates and earlier generations of lawyers. You can then take that understanding, apply it to your firm, and rethink your strategies for recruiting, retaining and rewarding associates, today and tomorrow.
Understanding Generational Differences
For the first time, law firms will soon be faced with having as many as four different generations of lawyers under one roof at the same time. Along with the diversity of these generations comes diversity in values, career expectations, motivators and reward mechanisms. Among the special challenges this presents to law firms is understanding the potential problems that can arise as older lawyers strive to teach, mentor and supervise the next generations.
Many partners, for example, are unsure about - even frustrated by - the new brand of associates. After all, associates today are part of a generation that is respectful of authority but not awed or intimidated by it. These children of the baby boomers have been raised to think independently and to express their beliefs openly. To an older generation of partners, this might be perceived as discourteous or disrespectful. Associates, in turn, might see partners as unresponsive or overly critical. Such miscommunications and misinterpretations are likely to lead to further problems and to increases in associate dissatisfaction and turnover.
How can firms get past such difficulties? It is helpful to identify some ways partners are different from the associates of today and tomorrow.
Introducing the Cast of Characters
Law firms today are made up of lawyers who were admitted to the bar sometime between 1960 and 2004. To at least some extent, the characteristics of these lawyers are a reflection of the times in which they were born. The following descriptions are meant to provide insight into the values and motivators of the different generations and are not meant to be stereotypes.
Again, these character sketches are but snapshots of the demographic shifts in play at law firms. The charts on pages 49 and 51 provide some more detail on corresponding changes in the profession and in individual lawyers' career expectations.
Taking Updated Approaches
Firms that fail to recognize these generational differences will stay stuck in old-school, passé management modes and face problems with recruitment, retention and other issues. Firms that properly understand how the values, motivations and expectations of the new generations differ from the old will have an opposite experience: They will realize they must take new, innovative approaches to recruiting, retaining and rewarding associates. Here are a few pointers and recommendations.
Getting Beyond the Old Brass Ring Research by the National Association for Law Placement Foundation found that for the past five years, 19.3 percent of lateral associates departed their law firms on an annual basis. In other words, many associates aren't staying around long enough to even be considered for partnership. Today's associates are less included to view partnership as an opportunity to grab the "brass ring." Instead, they are more apt to follow the next, bigger and better opportunity, whether because they want a less-competitive, less-stressful work environment or because the economics of partnership are less appealing than they were 30 years ago.
This shift in attitudes presents a challenge to firm management-but challenge presents opportunities.
Your firm now has the opportunity to develop a clear understanding of the generational differences among your lawyers and to take bold new approaches to recruiting, retaining and rewarding the lawyers who constitute the firm's future.
Virginia Grant (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a consultant with Altman Weil, Inc. She works out of the Midwest office, in Milwaukee, WI, and can be reached at (414) 427-5400.
Marci M. Krufka (email@example.com) is a consultant with Altman Weil, Inc. She works out of the Newtown Square, PA office, and can be reached at (610) 886-2000.
Adapted from an earlier version with permission from Altman Weil, Inc., Newtown Square, PA.
Comparing Then & Now: 30 years of change
Fewer than 750,000 lawyers in the U.S.
More than 1 million lawyers in the U.S.
Less than one lawyer for every 400 people in the U.S.
At least one lawyer for every 200 people in the U.S.
Lawyers viewed as well-respected members of the community.
Lawyers viewed with mistrust by the general public.
Practice of law is the exclusive domain of independent law firms.
Law firms feel the incursion of accounting firms, financial planners, HR consultants and others.
Clients are relatively unsophisticated and willing to accept lawyer advice at face value.
Clients are more sophisticated and less hesitant to question their options.
Sphere of business and social interaction is the local community.
Sphere of business and social interaction is global in reach.
Lawyers have carte blanche to litigate cases.
Budget squeeze in corporations results in profit squeeze in law firms.
Invoices to clients read "$XX,000 for services rendered."
Invoices are subject to voluminous billing guidelines, detailed descriptions of billing activities, limitations on billable events and more.
Secretaries take dictation.
Word processing is ubiquitous and voice recognition software is on the rise.
Lawyer to secretary ratio is 1:1.
Lawyer to secretary ratio is 3:1.
Lawyers have little or no technology training or experience.
Lawyers use computers regularly and expect firms to provide the latest technology tools and gadgets.
Legal research tools consist of paper libraries with hardback legal digests, Shepard's and the like.
Legal research tools include Westlaw, Lexis-Nexis, the Internet and other electronic resources.
Formal dress code is the standard, with Sunday considered the only casual day.
Casual dress code is preferred, with business casual acceptable Monday through Friday.
Lawyers work primarily from firm offices and are accessible to clients via telephone and mail.
Lawyers are mobile and constantly accessible to clients through the advent of e-mail, laptops, PDAs, BlackBerrys, cell phones and remote office systems.
Profession is dominated by white males.
Profession is more inclusive of women and people of color.
Jobs for decent students are plentiful at good law firms.
Job market is extremely competitive, with top-school degree or top-of-class standing required for large firms and best-paying jobs.
Associates invited into firm partnership after 5 to 7 years of good work.
Associates possibly invited into partnership after 8 to 10 years of high productivity, development of a book of business and some participation in firm management or administration.
Lawyers look for rewards in terms of financial success and elevation to partnership.
Lawyers look for rewards in terms of financial success, flexibility, freedom, autonomy and increase in opportunities.
Lawyers look to build lifetime careers in one firm.
Lawyers look to leverage their credentials by moving from one firm to the next.
Billable-hour requirements are moderate.
Billable-hour requirements are high.
Lawyers wait for opportunities for career progression.
Lawyers are more impatient in terms of career progression.
Discussions of the business case for diversity are limited or nonexistent.
Diversity is expected as an inherent part of doing business.
Definition of diversity means more women in the workplace.
Definition of diversity includes race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, thinking style, geographic location, lifestyle and more.
Formal feedback is given once a year, if at all.
Constant feedback is expected, and often given informally after each project.
Little or no debt at law school graduation
Student loan debt at law school graduation is often $60,000 to $120,000 or more.
National average associate starting salary is less than $25,000.
National average associate starting salary is more than $70,000.
Young lawyers expect to pay dues, then achieve financial payoff.
Young lawyers expect quicker financial payoff.
Single-income family is the norm.
Dual-income family is common.
Little or now childcare outside the home.
High-cost childcare outside the home.
Lawyers work full-time.
Firms have part-time and contract lawyers.
Lawyers live to work.
Lawyers want to lead balanced lives.
Stay-at-home spouse handles household and childcare duties and working spouse devotes evenings to client development, bar and community activities.
Both spouses have responsibility for household and childcare duties throughout the week.
"The Young & the Restless" by Virginia Grant and Marci M. Krufka, published in Law Practice, Volume 30, No. 5. July/August 2004, © 2004 by the American Bar Association. Reprinted by Permission.
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