law firm employee retention

It is an often-repeated stereotype that tomorrow’s generation of professionals will require more hand-holding and expect greater rewards than yesterday’s workers. Adherence to this critical attitude breeds an office environment that is anathema to Millennials and their successors, Generation Z. These new arrivals to the workforce, born in the 1980s and 1990s, have professional demands and desires widely divergent from their predecessors. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of law, a profession long-dominated by a traditionalist ethos.

Previous generations have bought in eagerly to a “just do it” attitude, driven by the promise of the American Dream and a comfortable retirement. Building and supporting a family played a central role in the pursuit of success and now-antiquated gender roles provided a coherent scaffolding upon which to justify long hours. It used to be that that was just what you did. Strong work ethic was considered morally “good.”

Not anymore. Hard work no longer carries inherent worth; the Millennial and Gen-Z generations want to understand the value of their efforts. Dissecting this cultural shift is beyond the present article. Instead, let’s turn to how law firms can adapt to bring the best out of a changing workforce.

Mentorship Programs
New legal talent (and all other human beings, really) crave guidance. In providing mentorship opportunities, everyone wins. Mentees gain professional skills, build self-confidence, and report greater job satisfaction. The mentor likewise gains a moral boost in seeing their knowledge validated. The firm wins as recruitment and retention becomes easier, and employee output increases.

Work/Life Balance
The key item driving accusations against Millennials and their successors is that, frankly, they’re lazy. Tomorrow’s talent does not want to work 80-hour weeks—does anybody, really?—and the best among them will hunt out opportunities that cater to this need. (The worst, meanwhile, will put in half-baked efforts and eventually resign). If your firm is to thrive, you need to evaluate part time, flex time or remote working possibilities.

Clear Expectations
In an era of fairness and equal rights, employees of the 21st Century value transparency in a way hitherto unknown. Millennials want clarity, especially concerning hourly expectations and bonus protocols. In the absence of clear rules, the younger generation is apt to suspect abuses of power or privilege. It’s like we’ve always said: if you’re withholding, people stop trusting you.

Give Praise!
More than ever, top talent needs to feel seen in their efforts. By definition, your strongest team members go above and beyond and, trust me, they want to be valued for doing so. Essential is that the recognition you provide be tailored to the individual. This may mean dropping their name in a meeting, taking them out for lunch, or writing them a thank you card—whatever you think they will respond to best.

Detail the Path to Advancement
Millennials and Gen-Zers value progress, not only politically but personally, too. Just as it is important that expectations be clear, so too is it critical that you let them in on how they might advance within the firm. Make criteria for promotion public, and guide your top talent toward the future they seek. Fail to do so, and the best will move on.

In short, tomorrow’s talent wants good communication, access to the tools needed for success, and opportunities to grow. While the old and curmudgeonly might be thinking that such things need to be earned, leaders in the field have already implemented them at their firms and are happily scooping up the talent you’re dreaming about hiring.

We’ve been working with small law firms for over 20-years now, helping them find, recruit, hire, train and develop absolute rock stars. If you are struggling to retain your team members—or even just to find team members—schedule a free discovery session with our founder, Molly McGrath, and find out how we can support your firm in whatever its ultimate goals are.

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