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June 29, 2016 Articles

The Millennial Perspective on the Current State of the Practice of Law

Generation Y is more highly educated, motivated, and diverse than you might think.

By Robert K. Dixon

The curmudgeon attorney may view millennial attorneys—those born between about 1980 and 2000—as a generation of attorneys plagued by the participation trophy and their sense of self-entitlement. But millennial attorneys have grown up with computers in the classroom and have survived the perils of the Great Recession during a particularly vulnerable period of their young careers. For that reason, millennials are highly educated and motivated. In addition, millennials are the most racially diverse generation in American history, according to a Pew Research Center study, Millennials in Adulthood (Mar. 2014). In light of these unique characteristics, below are some perspectives from different civil litigators of the millennial generation on the current state of the practice of law.


What is the ultimate goal for most millennial attorneys practicing today?

Monee Takla Hanna of Tucker Ellis LLP: I can’t claim to speak for most millennial attorneys, but I think this generation hopes to build a meaningful, sustainable practice. Millennials are often unfairly labeled as disloyal or noncommittal, when they may just be more willing to find their ideal fit.

Christina Tapia of Littler Mendelson P.C.: I believe the goals of millennial attorneys are similar to those of most attorneys—we strive to develop the skills necessary to properly represent our clients and grow in our practice.

Daniel C. Gunning of Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP: Many millennials seek to achieve a work-life balance. While many want to become partners, I’ve talked to a lot of attorneys who have admitted partnership is not their ultimate goal, as they are not willing to sacrifice work-life balance to make partner. They want to achieve their goals in their law practices, and they want time for outside activities and family. Achieving this balance is probably the greatest struggle for any attorney, but especially millennials.


What obstacles do you believe millennial attorneys face that were nonexistent when the prior generations of attorneys started practicing law?

Daniel C. Gunning: Technology has changed the way that the practice of law is done, especially for millennial attorneys, as it has virtually eliminated the concept of working nine to five. The ability to access emails and work outside the office has created an atmosphere in which millennials believe they have to be on call 24-hours a day in order to meet client expectations. And the challenge is then to turn off your technology so that you can disconnect when you are outside the office.

Monee Takla Hanna: Technology has been both a blessing and a curse. While the ability to work remotely has allowed for greater flexibility and increased the potential for maintaining a work-life balance, our inability to ever “disconnect” has presented a new set of challenges. Technology has also altered our opportunities for training and client contact. Where young associates were once sent to a client’s business to sift through documents, they are now confined to their desks where they may or may not spend their first years clicking through subsets of documents that can’t provide a full understanding of that client’s business.

Christina Tapia: There is so much information available to attorneys through online sources and multiple digital resources. Because of this, younger attorneys may forget the basics when it comes to their legal training. To overcome that, we need to remember to seek out mentors and speak one-on-one with other attorneys to learn the practical aspects of our practice—something online sources cannot truly educate us on.


What can law firms do to retain the diverse talent of the millennial generation?

Christina Tapia: Retaining diverse talent can be as simple as taking the time to speak with your diverse associate and making sure he or she feels part of the group. Sometimes law firms arrange for mentorship relationships, which can be helpful. However, if the only mentors assigned to a diverse associate are another diverse attorney and/or a mentor with a similar background, diverse associates may still feel left out from the rest of the firm. Efforts made by the firm’s non-diverse partners and/or senior associates to provide insight on the practice, mentorship (either formally or informally), and/or everyday conversation can go a long way to make a diverse associate feel welcome and increase the likelihood that he or she stays with a firm.

Daniel C. Gunning: Law firms that recognize that technology helps you work from home, work different hours, and that some in-office meetings can be replaced with phone calls or emails will be able to retain millennials who want to work different schedules and different hours to achieve their own personal needs.

Monee Takla Hanna: We are willing to work hard but need to find meaning in our practice. Law firms need strong mentorship and open channels of communication with firm leadership to retain talent. They also need to recognize the need for flexibility.


Are the majority of law firms paying lip service to the issue of diversity and inclusion or are they practicing what they are preaching?

Monee Takla Hanna: Law firms no doubt value diversity and likely strive for inclusion but need to make more of an effort to retain diverse talent. While new classes of law students and associates are more diverse than ever, partnership and law firm leadership still do not reflect it.

Daniel C. Gunning: I think law firms are still somewhat only paying lip service to this issue. Law firms are still very structured; there is a ceiling of sorts, especially for minorities and women, which is why you’ll see minorities and women start with law firms, but these firms will have difficulty retaining their diverse talent.

Christina Tapia: Most of the firms I have interacted with make some effort toward diversity during their recruitment process, and it has been great to see the increased support of law firms for the local attorney associations, which also work toward promoting a diverse legal community.


How can millennial attorneys get involved in their firm’s business development efforts?

Daniel C. Gunning: Attorneys can get more involved in business development by asking attorneys who are more senior if they can attend client lunches and dinners as well as by asking permission to join legal organizations and to attend conferences. But the key is to take on a leadership role within the organization, instead of just being a member.

Monee Takla Hanna: Millennial attorneys are able to stay in touch with their classmates through social media more effortlessly than previous generations, giving them unique opportunities for personal business development. Because those opportunities may not materialize immediately, millennials should still take advantage of any business development opportunities provided by their firm.

Christina Tapia: First, endeavor to impress your existing clients since they can dictate whether you (and your firm) receive future work and clients’ contacts can serve as a source of new work if they change jobs. Then try to make contacts with others in your local or national attorney associations and your firm’s own practice groups. If you pay attention, that involvement can lead to various business development opportunities.

Keywords: litigation, diversity, inclusion, millennials, business development

Copyright © 2016, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).