Building law firms for millennials—a challenge or an opportunity?

Building law firms for millennials—a challenge or an opportunity?

Much has been written of late about the challenges and the impact of millennials in the workplace—some critical (they don’t want to work hard, they are demanding job-hoppers) and some positive (they are self-assured, have high expectations and are tech-savvy). David Stevenson, chief executive of George Green, and Andrew Hedley, director of Hedley Consulting, assess how law firms can effectively recruit, manage, mentor and invest in millennials.What have recent reports suggested about millennials in the work place? How do their views and expectations of the workplace differ from previous generations?

David Stevenson (DS): Recent reports suggest what we perhaps felt, but dare not assume, in a world where rhetoric often trumps the reality—that is to say that, despite stereotypical labelling it is far too much of a generalisation to say we are faced with a generational change in workplace attitudes. The position is more complex than that, and in my view, always has been. The fact is that everyone is different and has their own definitive hopes, fears and expectations—the key is to recognise this and be able to tap into individual needs accordingly.

While this has not changed, what has changed is the background rhetoric reflective of a society as a whole which at least aspires to an environment that is more conducive to so-called work life balance, for example. Recent reports appear to suggest that millennials in the work place are more likely to move around, and require instant gratification and more input into things earlier on—but this has always been my experience in the legal world.

Andrew Hedley (AH): What is clear is that societal and generational shifts are playing out in the workplace, and those in positions of power in many firms are failing to understand the positive potential of their younger colleagues or the changing nature of their clients’ expectations. There is nothing new in the challenges of an incumbent generation. The millennial generation is different to my generation in the same way that my generation was different to that of my parents, and theirs to their parents. Not better, nor worse, just different.

In the workplace right now, we have at least three generations represented—the baby boomers born between 1945 and 1960 who still constitute 33% of the workforce, Generation X born between 1961 and 1980 (35% of the workforce) and the millennials born after 1980 who comprise 29%.

Millennials want to be given opportunities to do interesting work that ‘makes a difference’ and to be recognised for their achievements. Frederick Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory identified that

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