By Brooke Faulkner • April 18, 2017•Careers, Other Career Issues
The question of whether the culture in America shapes new generations, or whether the generations themselves shape cultural shifts, brings about a chicken-and-egg scenario that is likely a discussion too large for this piece. What we do know, however, is that each new generation brings something different to the workforce, and also demands changes to the status quo. This is a good thing, as it keeps industries from being stagnant, and the field of law is one that needs to remain static to keep up with the times.
There is absolutely no doubt that a shift is already happening: millennials are changing the workforce every day, and each subset of industry will need to make the decision to keep up or fall behind. According to The University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy, millennials are an extremely important generation who are changing the workforce for the better. While they don’t necessarily fit into the current models, accommodating them can only be a step towards overall improvement.
One of the biggest advancements this generation has forged is the growth of women in the workforce in general, as well as their growth in influential roles. According to The University of Alabama’s Collat School of Business, women are populating managerial and corporate roles much more often than they did 20 years ago. But this isn’t all: companies with females in c-suite or board positions have higher profitability. The legal field has seen similar changes, with not only more female JDs, but more moving up the ladders to the top echelons of prestigious firms. Women are proving everywhere they go that they are just as valuable as men, and we won’t stop until equal representation and equal pay have finally arrived.
This, of course, is a wonderful change that was long overdue, and there’s still work to be done. But let’s look at some of the other ways millennials are shaping the workforce, and what this means for us JDs.
First off, millennials communicate differently: they are more apt to thrive in environments where collaboration and feedback are common, and their aptitude for technology means they can, and want to, stay in touch from every corner of the world, whether they’re working from home or traveling. This means that they’re likely to be out of the office more, but they won’t necessarily be doing less work.
Don’t let the millennial’s innate hatred for sitting at a desk for ten hours a day fool you into thinking they aren’t a valuable asset: according to Ohio University, millennials prefer to work in teams, and they do best in situations where communication and feedback is constant, whether it’s face-to-face or over a video conference.
This is something that has always been present in the legal field. Different cases require different types of research, which can mean a lot of hopping from one library to another, and sometimes even on-the-job travel. The new generation’s willingness to get out and about while still remaining tethered through technology is a huge advantage for those practicing law, and it means that they will likely have a more rounded view of their profession and their clients than generations past.
Perhaps one of the biggest ways millennials are shaping the workforce is their need for constant growth. They are the most educated generation in history, and they want to utilize their educations in as many ways possible. Millennials are looking for opportunities to not just expand their knowledge, but to move up the ladder and to have consistently positive relationships with those above them.
This means that law firms who mistreat interns and fail to give them an educational experience will see fewer and fewer come in the door. This also means that firms who don’t offer competitive opportunities for advancement to top performers will see them walk out the door, likely for an advancement opportunity that they couldn’t see on the horizon in their current outfit.
Another way millennials are challenging the workplace status quo: many of them are opting for overall job satisfaction over the opportunity for big money. Long gone are the days when someone spends their life working for “the man,” doing a job they hate, just to support their family and walk away with the bare minimum they need to retire.
Long story short: good pay isn’t enough to keep good employees. This is especially true for the legal field, when JDs spend an above average number of years on their education. That kind of dedication is often an indicator of someone who’s willing to put in a lot of effort to better themselves, and when they enter the workforce, they want to feel like they are still moving forward. They also want to feel like they are moving their firm and their clients forward. If all they get out of their practice is a paycheck, they will likely leave for other opportunities where they feel valued.
Take it from law student Genevieve Antono, whose millennial attitude is already permeating her education (for the better): she doesn’t just want to see herself as a label. “Pre-law” and “law student” aren’t enough to define her. She wants to feel like, and be seen as, a young professional who has a lot to learn and a lot to offer. Her happiness in her law school career can’t be defined solely by her future prospects, and when she begins to practice, she likely won’t want to define her success solely by her pay.
For those JDs hiring the new millennial generation, it’s important to keep in mind that while they may need to be handled a little differently, they are improving things day by day. For those millennials setting out in their careers; don’t give up. You might enter into a somewhat stagnant bureaucracy, but if you try hard enough to effect a change for the better, you will see positive results--even if that means taking your talents elsewhere.