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Managing Millennials: How Law Firms Can Adapt to the New Generation of Employees

The following is adapted from The Case for Culture.

(Royalty free image: https://unsplash.com/photos/zd8px974bC8, Credit: Unsplash / matfelipe)

Millennials make up 35 percent of the general workforce and it will not be long before they are the majority, and yet many more-experienced professionals still don’t quite know what to make of them. Stereotypes abound, often negative:

“Millennials are lazy clock-watchers.”

“They hop from job to job.”

“They don’t care about anything.”

In my experience, these stereotypes miss the mark and prevent leaders from seeing the truth: millennials possess many of the best qualities that we seek out the most in employees, they can be tenacious, a drive for justice, and a passion for making the world a better place. As I’ll explore in this article, millennials might, in fact, be exactly what your law firm needs to reach its next level of success.

Decoding Millennials

I used to be very awkward around millennials. We have had many work for our law firm, and we still do. At first they just looked like clock-watching phone zombies to me. They seemed more concerned with lunchtime and running out of the office at 5 p.m. than with working hard. I often struggled to talk to them.

This was a challenging experience for me, as I can usually talk to anybody. I recall being so uncomfortable standing in the kitchen with one of our millennials, pouring myself a coffee while they made avocado toast. I didn’t know what to talk to them about. I just couldn’t relate to someone who had never seen Seinfeld.

Then we hired Lauren. She was a millennial and she was just wonderful. Lauren was one of our early employees and came to us straight out of school. She is smart, calm, soft-spoken, compassionate, and caring. We finally had a millennial I really liked. One day, she was getting up from her desk, ready to head home for the evening. I said, “Lauren, can I talk to you for a minute?”

She looked at me and said, “It’s after 5 p.m.”

Then she gave me a half-apologetic smile and left the office. I couldn’t believe it. Are you kidding? I thought. It was three minutes after five, I was her boss, and I wanted to speak for one minute. I couldn’t understand her mindset. Lauren wasn’t an asshole; she was smart and kind. She cared about our clients and the work. She was the type of person I wanted working for us—in every aspect except for this.

After my indignation wore off, I wondered how I could keep Lauren motivated at work. I wanted her to remain engaged, and, if possible, prevent my head from exploding when she waltzed out at 5 p.m. on the dot.

The Truth about Millennials

The incident with Lauren set me off on a researching spree where I read all I could about millennials and discovered that most, if not all, of the stereotypes are misleading. After learning more, Lauren’s actions even made sense to me. Most millennials don’t let work become their everything. Rather, they want it to be a driving force for a healthy life. Everybody could do with more of that attitude.

In general, millennials are concerned citizens who want to make a positive impact on the world. They are purpose-driven. This means there’s a new generation of lawyers and staff who want to be more humanistic. If your firm has a purpose-driven culture that puts human needs first and lives by a set of values, millennials will embrace that. It will help them feel empowered to positively impact the world in a bigger way than they could ever accomplish alone.

The statistics also say millennials jump around in their jobs. They won’t stay put, and they have no loyalty. When I dug deep into the analysis, though, I discovered that millennials do value stability. They simply won’t stay loyal to a company without a stable, purpose-driven culture. To millennials, culture and purpose are everything.

Why I Want to Hire Millennials and You Should, Too

At my law firm, I want employees who care about their impact on the world. I want people who prioritize their health to prevent burnout. And I respect those who are unwilling to sacrifice their stability to a big, heartless company. Millennials, it turns out, are people I want to be around.

And let’s be truthful, lazy, unmotivated people are not confined to a specific generation.  We’ve all seen plenty of these people in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in the workplace. 

I began to embrace our millennials. I tried to make them feel cared for, so they’d want to stay with our firm. I wanted to create a culture that would keep these hard-working, conscientious people around. In many ways, this led me down a rabbit hole of cultural improvements, which resulted in millennials staying loyal to the firm, and older staff improving their work and their lives.

With our improved age diversity, we became a more creative company. Greater creativity led to less turnover and more profits. It all contributed to our success. If you, too, want to tap into the positive qualities millennials bring to the table, take steps to create a welcoming, creative, and purpose-driven culture. Not only will you attract and retain more millennials, but your overall work environment will grow into a more productive, positive place.

For more advice on improving company culture, you can find The Case for Culture on Amazon.

Eric Farber is on a mission to change how law firms operate by showing lawyers the value of putting culture first. During his twenty-five years as a lawyer, Eric has lived the transformation from scarcity to abundance that becomes possible when you shift your perspective and prioritize people. As the CEO and chief legal officer of Pacific Workers’ Compensation Law Center, Eric’s focus on culture helped him build a seven-figure firm that’s gone from four people to forty in just five years, been an Inc. 5000 company twice, was named to the Bay Area 100 list of fastest-growing companies, and spent two consecutive years in the top fifty of Law Firm 500.