The Gen Why Lawyer: How Millennials Are Changing the Legal Workplace

Members of Generation Y, aka Millennials, make up the largest generational group in U.S. history and the largest generation in the workforce (according to this 2015 Pew Research Center study).  We are poised to reshape the economy and change the way firms and businesses have been operating for decades.  Yet we seem to be the most misunderstood by our employers. More often than not, we find ourselves working for law firms and companies that have no idea how to “deal” with us, and this lack of knowing how Millennials operate leads to tension and breakdown in communication at work.

One reason for these misunderstandings stems from the fact that many firms continue to apply the same outdated management principles that have been used for decades. However, these principles just won’t work with Gen Y lawyers. The old management style no longer fits. What used to motivate older generations of lawyers does not motivate Millennial lawyers. We have a set of expectations and priorities that are vastly different than prior generations.  If employers wish to attract, retain, and harmoniously work alongside Millennial lawyers, then it’s important to identify what makes us tick and adapt to how we’re changing the legal workplace. Only then will we begin to bridge the gap between the generations and remove barriers to achieving success together.

Here are the top four ways Millennials are changing the legal workplace:

We don’t care much for the traditional meaning of “work/life balance”

I understand why lawyers preach the importance of work/life balance:  you can’t be all work and no play and certainly can’t be all play and no work. I get it.

But the term “work/life balance” itself suggests a somewhat dichotomous existence where on one end, we are worker bees, meeting those billable requirements, churning out motions, aggressively advocating, and on the other end, we’re wives, mothers, board chairwomen, softball team captains, and such. Are the two mutually exclusive?

“Work/life balance” also suggests that there’s a clear delineation of when “work” ends and when “life” begins. As if lawyers can ever really clock out of their jobs at the end of an 8-hour shift, or as if we must wait for work to be done in order to begin “living.”

As Millennials, we believe our jobs are important aspects of our lives and we want a career that fits seamlessly into our lives (and vice versa).  More important than trying to find the balance between the two, we focus on finding a work culture that allows us to integrate work and non-work-related demands into our days.  We value built-in flexibility, not scheduled time off. We seek greater fulfillment from our daily tasks rather than muscling through our legal work until our next vacation time.

Millennials truly value jobs that allow for inherent balance. At the end of the day, isn’t it all just life?

We value constructive coaching/mentorship relationships

Millennials respect experienced attorneys and believe there is a lot to learn, and we want to learn it! We admire fearless women lawyers who helped paved the way for us in the profession. We understand the value of a mentorship relationship and as such, we don’t want to just admire these fearless women from afar. We want to get intimate and learn from them. We want them to let us into their world and show us how they managed to build successful careers and lives because we want that too!

While many law students and young lawyers are told to find mentors and build relationships, rarely do firms or companies incorporate this simple concept into their work culture, employee retention plans, or partner secession plans. If more firms invested time and energy into educating, mentoring, and nurturing new lawyers, then Gen Y lawyers will be more inclined to apply to work for those firms and will also feel a deeper sense of loyalty and respect towards them.

Leadership and professional development opportunities are important to us

Millennials have the makings of great legal leaders for several reasons. We are comfortable in a world of rapid change; we embrace technology as partners in our practices; we are social, connected and compassionate; and we value community and team-building. These are all characteristics of great leaders. Thus, employers who provide opportunities for leadership development within a firm will naturally attract and retain Millennial lawyers. Opportunities can range from allowing us to participate in the firm’s marketing and business development to allowing us greater facetime with clients.

Furthermore, we value continuing personal and professional growth. While employers might graciously offer to pay for an associate’s continuing education credits (MCLE’s), these MCLE’s don’t always provide the type of professional development we’re looking for. We want opportunities that will allow us to develop our skills and knowledge in areas that are beyond just the law, such as communication, public speaking, writing, interpersonal relationships, marketing, sales, and creativity. Firms and companies that provide trainings in these areas of professional and personal development will ultimately win.

We give back

As Millennials, we enjoy working for causes bigger than ourselves so we seek out opportunities to give back. Sometimes, our decisions to apply to work for a certain company will depend on whether or not that company demonstrates a passion for social responsibility. Law firms that show a commitment to philanthropy and social responsibility will resonate with Millennial lawyers.

In addition to aligning ourselves with firms that offer philanthropic opportunities, we proactively search for ways to use our skills and knowledge to contribute to society outside of work. Typically, that takes the form of pro bono work at legal clinics and other volunteer work aimed at addressing the justice gap, but not always. We are just as eager to donate our time to non-legal community organizations and non-profits. We recognize that all of these charitable donations make us well-rounded contributing members of society and have allowed us to raise the bar on what it means to be an advocate. Therefore, employers who allow Millennials to participate in setting the company giving agenda and who, themselves, support philanthropic efforts will not only do good for society, but will ultimately do good in our books too. 


As we fill up the ranks of the legal profession, we’re bringing with us our own set of values, work ethics, and priorities. Although change can be difficult, if firms wish to retain and successfully integrate Millennials into their culture, they must learn to adapt to this new normal workplace.


I invite your opinions about this matter. If you’re a Millennial, leave a comment below as to what you think Millennials contribute to the workplace. If you’re an attorney of a prior generation, I’d love to hear your thoughts about your interactions with Gen Y lawyers in the profession.  Let’s talk about this.

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