The legal millennial
Generation Y's focus on varied tasks and work-life balance isn't about being work-shy; it's about being flexible to get the best out of employees, explains Charlotte Parkinson
The children of the “baby boomers”, the millennials, or generation Y, vary in age in different publications, but common consensus is that the term refers to someone born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. Millennials started their careers either working through or dealing with the after-effects of the recession and record-high levels of debt. They may have invested more than those before them and entered a legal profession more competitive than ever. In them, firms have more committed, educated, and rounded employees.
Millennials have been described as no longer having the loyal attitude of previous generations, but as the ones prepared to speak out and say “we need to do something differently”. It seems to be less about extreme salaries and making equity partner and more about the work-life balance and variety. So what do junior lawyer millennials really want?
Work and life priorities should be complementary, not competing. Junior lawyers increasingly understand that you don’t necessarily need to be at your desk 24/7 to do the job well. Technology means you can work anywhere and at any time. Unfortunately, there can still be an issue of desk presenteeism and a lack of it can be a barrier to progression. Millennials don’t always tend to agree with the baby boomers’ views on visibility and see sitting at a desk but doing nothing of value as unproductive.
This shouldn’t be viewed as being work-shy; instead millennials want to understand their task and where it fits in to the deal to ensure they are working effectively. It’s about being sensible with their time – if they’re waiting for the US to wake up, let them come in later. If they’re going to be working until the early hours of the morning, let them leave for an hour to go to the gym or eat dinner before coming back into the office, refreshed and ready to continue.
The recent Leeds Legal Conference ran a session with millennials where it was revealed that one firm had allowed a junior lawyer to work flexible hours during Ramadan. This allowed him to work to suit his energy levels according to the times at which he ate. Working through the night meant he could sleep during the day when he had lower energy due to fasting. It wasn’t about an easy life; it was being flexible to get the best out of their employee.
Millennials can also become disengaged quickly (as can anyone, remember) so bring them into the deal, and show them how their work fits in and why it’s important.
Firms and supervisors should also make every effort to ensure work is pitched at the right level. Your associates want to do the advice part of the job; make sure work is delegated appropriately to make this happen as often as possible. If something is repeated in every transaction, technology can do this task more quickly and cheaply. Firms should embrace these attitudes and listen with a view to making positive changes.
Still not convinced about the millennial attitude? Well, consider this: your clients are increasingly members of generation Y. They will demand smarter working, flexibility, and to only pay for the added value (the advice part). Times are changing, and the way firms work may also need to change too.
Charlotte Parkinson is an executive committee member of the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society