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December 2017

4 musts for retaining millennial attorneys

With estimates indicating that about half of the U.S. workforce will be made up of millennials by the year 2020, practice management expert Thomas C. Grella of McGuire, Wood & Bissette, PA, in Asheville, N.C., says that law firms should rethink their traditional ways of leadership and management.

In his recent Law Practice magazine article, “A Law Firm Millennial Retention Plan,” Grella says that retaining today’s young attorneys is crucial and requires a plan built on the needs of those lawyers. And through implementation of that plan, firms can best ensure their long-term sustainability.

Going through his firm’s own evolution in the way it manages millennials, Grella shares his lessons learned on four crucial elements for any successful retention plan.

1 – Collaborative planning of strategy and values - To best ensure success and sustainability, law firms have long relied upon strategic planning completed by its upper echelon leaders.  But Grella says that such a process, which typically involves creating three- to five-year plans, is outdated.

Today’s young lawyers see future planning as more dynamic, where change is constant. And, they want to be included in the planning process – often in small collaborative teams that work together to achieve success.

Moreover, Grella says that the values of an organization matter greatly to millennials, suggesting that firms create a statement of its values – one that is reinforced regularly. “Firm members do not simply want to know that words exist, but that members will be held accountable for their actions if they are not consistent with stated values.”

2 – Opportunities for recognition – More than in past generations, today’s young attorneys desire “to be quickly engaged in important work that makes a significant impact and that results in prompt recognition,” Grella says.  

While opportunities for that kind of work may not always be available, especially with client requirements that disallow newer attorneys from performing those duties, Grella emphasizes that “firm leaders show they understand the millennial generation when they figure out ways to provide younger lawyers with opportunities to lead, whether in firm management or other important types of work.”

3 – Emphasis on relationship building – In developing its millennial attorneys, Grella’s firm first tried a traditional mentoring program, involving written reports completed by mentors and mentees, and other formalities. But it wasn’t what their young attorneys wanted or needed.

While millennials want relationships and inclusiveness, they also want less structure and reporting, and more face-time.

“Time spent in relationship building, though seemingly counterproductive to the billable hour, ends up being what the younger generation needs to develop into successful practitioners and productive firm leaders,” Grella says.

4 – “Work-life integration” over “work-life balance” – While the past generation focused on “work-life balance,” where work is great as long as there is enough down time, today’s new lawyers do not see a divorce between work and outside interests.

Rather, millennials seek “work-life integration,” where success is defined by a life that integrates work and life together, instead of separately. “In this integration, volunteerism is not only encouraged but also part of work itself, fully supported by the firm,” Grella notes.

“The concept is that as full integration is achieved in the individual life of the lawyer, the firm will, as a positive consequence, experience organizational success,” Grella says.

For more tips on retaining millennial attorneys, read Grella’s full article here.

Law Practice magazine is a member benefit of the ABA Law Practice Division.

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