YourABA: November 2012
YourABA November 2012 Masthead

Get the most from your Millennial lawyers

Ursula Furi-Perry

Ursula Furi-Perry

Millennials are often defined as a generation by their use of technology, but these individuals born in the 1980s and 1990s share so many other traits. In her new book, The Millennial Lawyer, Ursula Furi-Perry, a Millennial lawyer herself, debunks myths about Millennials and shares how managers can take advantage of their strengths and provide what they need to be successful and motivated. YourABA recently spoke with Perry.

What are some of the key characteristics of the Millennial generation?

First, a disclaimer: I think that any material published about generational differences is necessarily going to contain various generalizations. Obviously, Millennial lawyers are unique individuals, and no generation can be summed up in a neat package of adjectives. However, certain common experiences and conditions do affect members of a generation, and there are some key characteristics that many Millennials share, including:

  • An entrepreneurial spirit;
  • A collaborative attitude;
  • Technology know-how;
  • An appreciation of individualism and diversity in the workplace;
  • A keen ability to multitask;
  • A tendency to be (realistically) optimistic; and
  • Engagement in public service and volunteerism.

What are some of the stereotypes that some senior lawyers may believe that are just untrue?

Some have portrayed Millennials as a generation of whiners who lack work ethic; need constant praise and hand-holding; tend to be less loyal to their employers than members of previous generations; have an incredible sense of entitlement; and want to be on the fast track to the top without “paying their dues.” Supervising and managing partners need to stop buying into the stereotype of the lazy Millennial. Instead, they should be tapping into Millennial associates’ unique skill set, putting their talents to use for maximum efficiency at the firm.

What are the advantages of having Millennials in your firm? And the challenges?

Put simply, supervising lawyers should care about Millennial lawyers because: 1) they are here to stay, and in great numbers, at that; and 2) firms will need to utilize these new lawyers in the best interests of the firm — which means working together, capitalizing on the strengths of the newest lawyers and understanding how to harvest their talents.

The advantages of having Millennials at your firm are manifold. Millennials enjoy working in groups, while they are also used to working independently and juggling many tasks. They often have an “I can do anything I set my mind to” attitude (conveyed and taught to them, most often, by their Boomer “helicopter parents”), which a savvy manager can harvest and use for the good of the firm. They are innovative and enthusiastic.

The challenges are sometimes a result of perceived lapses in professionalism — for example, that email sent by your Millennial associate with all the emoticons and colloquialisms might seem unprofessional to you, whereas to the associate, it’s simply the manner in which he communicates.

Sometimes, challenges are the result of unclear guidance — for instance, when your Millennial associate asks you for feedback on that motion for the third time, perhaps there was a miscommunication about the task. You might begin to view the associate as someone who needs constant “hand-holding,” whereas the associate is simply used to getting frequent feedback and wants to ensure she is doing a good job.

How do you attract and keep Millennials at your firm?

Start with open engagement and interactive inquiry. Millennials want clear goals, clear road maps and employers who will allow them to engage and inquire, and will in turn clarify and listen with an open mind. Also, recognize that what you (or other lawyers from previous generations) may have found to be enticing to stay at a firm — namely, raises and promotions through the traditional career ladder to partnership — are not necessarily what the Millennial lawyer finds enticing. Focus less on prestige and tradition and more on the future of the firm: What can you offer Millennial associates who choose to work for you?

Millennials, by many accounts, want to feel that they are contributing to the greater good of their employers’ business. Explain to your Millennial associates how they fit into the “big picture” of your firm’s business and future.

What are the best ways to manage Millennials?

  • Provide regular feedback, evaluations and guideposts — even if you never had this when you were a new lawyer. Millennials expect it.
  • Aim to collaborate rather than command. Millennials are used to being able to provide feedback to authority figures and work with them rather than for them —after all, Millennials have been able to email their elected officials since they were in grade school! As a result, their preferred style of being managed often centers on collaboration and contribution. If you can tap into that style and still manage the work of your Millennial associates effectively, those associates often will be a lot more likely to contribute and stay loyal to your firm.
  • Have clear expectations in place, and communicate them explicitly to your Millennial associates. Also, set and communicate clear boundaries regarding interpersonal relationships in the office.

What is the importance of mentoring for Millennials?

By all accounts, Millennials want structure: They want clear expectations, instructions, guideposts and evaluations. Whereas the older attorneys at the firm may have gotten little guidance and were expected to “sink or swim,” the newest generation of lawyers has a real problem with that. Mentoring continues to evolve, and formal and informal programs that have worked in the past may not work for this newest generation. This means that some of the programs you may already have in place at your firm — on which you may be spending considerable resources — may not be effective or efficient. Mentoring programs should stress the importance of clearly articulated expectations for the mentor, the mentee and the mentoring relationship, along with continued communication. Note that this does not have to translate into unnecessary coddling and hand-holding. Focus on clear, realistic expectations.

How can Millennials help bridge the technological gap that exists with senior lawyers?

First, Millennials must understand that many employers might not be as up to date on technology as the Millennial associate might expect but that many employers will listen to realistic, good ideas about advancing the firm. There are examples of Millennial associates in my book who have proactively asked their employers to allow them to use their tech-savvy to their firms’ advantage — for example, by revamping the firm’s website, helping the firm reduce its reliance on paper or establishing the firm’s social media presence. One issue of contention is Millennials’ tendency to use technology to communicate, sometimes resulting in more informal communication methods than the ones used by previous generations of associates. Millennials must recognize that technology cannot replace all face-to-face communication. Conversely, supervising partners should recognize the value of technology in communicating with their associates.

Are Millennials’ work/life balance demands realistic? How can employers work with them to meet those goals?

First of all, “work/life balance” means something different for every individual. Whether a particular associate’s demands are realistic depends on what those demands are. Certainly, Millennial associates should expect to work hard, but I believe that most Millennials coming out of law school do understand that! They may not value “face time” as much as other attorneys, but they also may just be working or accessible on their smartphones or tablets 24/7.

Supervising lawyers should make work-life balance initiatives available across the board; at the least, they should communicate which initiatives are available, at what point, to which employees. Use technology to your advantage — simple changes can help your Millennial associates keep in touch and work from virtually anywhere. Consider flexible work arrangements; Millennials are particularly well-suited to working those, as they are used to staying connected through technology and multitasking.

How can Millennials weather the bad economy?

I usually advise students to work on a realistic budget as soon as they begin working, track their spending closely and live within their means. They should become familiar with any programs designed to help with student loan debt, including deferment programs, loan repayment assistance programs, income-based loan repayment programs and loan forgiveness programs. Most important, in tough times, be proactive about finding a job and flexible in considering potential employers — for example, develop strategic relationships (network!) with people who might align you with your next position, and stay up to date on the legal landscape and potential employment opportunities.

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