Challenge Established Law Firm Culture or Advance to Partnership?
“If larger firms want to retain young talent, then their response cannot be ‘We don’t care, you’re fortunate to have a paycheque – suck it up’.” Ouch. Them’s fightin’ words.
Those are the words, in fact, of a young millennial lawyer, Kristen Corpion, in her 6th year of practice, speaking on a recent Legal Speak podcast. Are young associates pushing back?
Millennials currently make up the largest contingent of the legal workforce. And for this group, “To Push or to Partner?” that is the question. While technology and other market forces continue to bring change to the legal profession, millennials continue to struggle with this dilemma: Change and grow, or go with the flow?
A 2019 “Millennial Attorney” survey conducted by Above The Law and Major, Lindsey & Africa shows that despite a majority being unsatisfied with the current makeup of law firm culture, a large proportion of respondents (over 40%) still aspire to partner status.
The main findings regarding the ‘culture criticism’ include:
- 66% feel that partnership is less desirable than it was a generation ago
- 51% say that the law firm business model is fundamentally broken
- 75% are open to new job opportunities, or actively seeking them (this despite 70% describing themselves as “loyal” to the firm)
“Millennials like to do things efficiently, with technology,” says Corpion. “And I think that those sort of embedded characteristics start brushing up against the older models, the older way of doing things, and young people come in and they question the way things are done at a firm… It causes issues.”
The Law Firm Generation Gap
So, if the “more established” generation of attorneys are more resistant to change, where does that leave our legal generation gap? Simply put, it leaves them struggling to find a suitable balance.
More specifically, according to the survey, the ubiquitous “work-life balance” comes to the fore:
75% of millennial lawyers would trade a portion of their compensation for either more time off, a flexible work schedule, or a cut in billable hours.
This is where Corpion feels the playing field is the least balanced for young lawyers:
“The business model is to treat the associate as a workhorse, drive them into the ground and get as much work from them as you can…. You’re being pushed and incentivized to bill.” This leaves little time to network, build connections, and learn more about the other sides of the business, like embracing new technologies.
Millennials Challenging the Status Quo
But all this doesn’t mean that the new generation of lawyers isn’t enacting change. In fact, one of the key findings of the survey shows that 62% agree that millennials are transforming law firm policies and culture for the better.
Further, they are actually optimistic about the future: 70% were confident that they will achieve their 10-year career goal.
So, for now, as the new and old generation continue to spar over the current and future law firm culture, millennials are making inroads, bringing both legal tech and work-life balance along for the ride.