Millennials and the partnership pathway: how to maximise Millennial potential

Millennials and the partnership pathway: how to maximise Millennial potential

We are living in a unique period in history where for the first time five generations of professionals are all at work—and working together. This epoch could pose a significant challenge for employers, as law firms have a tough brief in balancing the different, and often conflicting, value sets of the different generations. However, reconciling the realities and traditions of the legal industry with the values of Millennials and Gen Z employees is more important than ever. As increasing numbers of baby boomers begin to take retirement, in the space of five years the workforce will see the Millennial cohort retain the majority and by 2020, more than 50% of the global work force will be Millennial.

Despite their ascendency, Millennials continue to confound many business leaders. Often, their professional aspirations and motivations do not tally up with the status quo. A recent survey, found that only 30% of junior lawyers are interested in becoming partners in a law firms, a pathway which had previously defined or confirmed success for lawyers. While this may be cause for concern, the survey results should galvanise law firms into harnessing their Millennial talent to safe guard the partnership pathway as an appealing and culturally relevant opportunity.

Broadly speaking, Millennials possess five key characteristics:

  1. They are curious, and reason driven. Millennials want to know why they are doing something and will question the value of the proposed task. Big picture thinking defines this group, as does their desire to ‘make a difference’.
  2. Millennials do not value occupational longevity in the same way as their baby boomer colleagues. On average, Millennials stay in a job for a maximum of three years before leaving. In addition to this, they often fly in the face of ‘occupational monogamy’ and will be involved in ‘side hustles’ as well as their 9–5.
  3. Millennials demand a good work/life balance and will leave jobs if they appear to be inflexible.
  4. This group are tolerant, feminist and globally minded.

While on the surface it appears that the partnership model and the Millennial are largely incompatible, there are a number of overlapping values that make Millennials great prospects for partner.

As the New Law Journal reports: ‘Most firms have talented lawyers who are not in the partnership; some will have management team members who can make a contribution at least as valuable as that of any single partner. If these people can become part-owners, they may be more likely to stay, the firm may become more attractive to recruits, and their motivation and fulfilment may also grow.’ Tapping into the Millennial desire to make a difference is critical to ensure the health of the partnership pathway in the years to come. Many Millennials believe in the importance of doing good in your day to day work. Becoming a partner, with the ability to make decisions and shape culture is an essential selling point for organisations—enabling Millennials to tap into their desire to influence high level decisions and push their organisation forward.

One of the biggest struggles for law firms when it comes to working with Millennials is retaining high quality talent, typically Millennials do not stay in jobs for over three years making it difficult to retain and cultivate talented young lawyers readying them for partnership. In a research report undertaken by KPMG, it was found that if Millennials do not perceive the opportunity to move up, they move out. KPMG explains: ‘Companies need to set honest expectations for millennial workers so that they know that if they stay longer, they will be rewarded with a better title, more money and the opportunity to grow. Where a vacancy comes up, companies should offer the opportunity to existing millennial staff first instead of opting for an external hire.’ Creating a culture of opportunity and upward movement is an essential component in creating an engaged Millennial workforce and cultivating the partners of the future.

Thanks to the global nature of the world millennials grew up in, Millennials are among the most tolerant of generations. As a result, Millennials expect for this tolerance to be reflected in their workplaces, and that their firms reward talented employees equitably and without prejudice. As a result, undertaking a full, honest and visible review of gender and ethnicity gaps is vital. If Millennials perceive your business to be small minded and slow to evolve the likelihood is that they won’t envisage themselves achieving there. This is particularly true of female Millennials who sometimes don’t feel prepared or confident enough to apply for positions of responsibility. This is in large part due to a perception that managerial vacancies are filled with their male counterparts.

Enhancing current leadership diversity should form a corner stone of reform over the next five years to maximise the potential for development of Millennial talent in preparation for future leadership roles. This could be achieved by creating a policy that enforces that there are equal male and female applicants for a leadership position.

Building a culture of flexibility is crucial for developing the next generation of business leaders. In a study undertaken by PWC to look into the future of management for PWC employees, it was found that: ‘Many Millennials are unconvinced that excessive work demands are worth the sacrifices to their personal life—and if they come into an organisation and find they’re not getting the full life they want, they will look elsewhere.’ As a result, law firms may need to reassess how they measure the compatibility of candidates applying for partner. Rather than measure on years served or hours billed, Law firms should consider a different metric that takes into account a more pastoral view—this may include a look at their strategy experience, company values and client skills.

With Millennials set to take over the global professional landscape, it’s safe to say that the business world will change. Understanding the generational differences between Millennials and non-Millennials will ultimately help promote retention and drive a work force who are invested in the future of the business and can envisage themselves in managerial positions. To ensure this future comes to fruition, it’s important that current leaders harness the unique skill set of this generation to keep retain and cultivate the business leaders of the future. 


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About the author:
Catherine is one of the Future of Law's digital editors. She graduated from Durham University with a degree in English Literature and worked at a barristers chambers before joining Lexis Nexis.