How will ‘Gen Y’ lawyers impact law firm retention and recruitment?

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  • How will ‘Gen Y’ lawyers impact law firm retention and recruitment?

Following an interesting report from London Business School last year, reflecting on the expectations that Generation Y’ professionals will change jobs more frequently, we have considered how this might impact the legal profession.

With modern law firms being run more commercially, and routinely cutting their staff numbers when business dictates, it can be of little surprise if the Partners of the future feel a diminished sense of loyalty.  With the carrot of near guaranteed Partnership gone and the shattered illusion of law being somehow ‘different’, what exists beyond an individual’s own inertia, to keep them from jumping ship at the first sign of a better offer?

Traditionalists might suggest wages, prestige and a high-quality of work, and no doubt all have an impact, but there is substantial evidence to say that younger lawyers put a premium on early responsibility, a collaborative culture, genuine career development opportunities and a good work-life balance.  Whilst there has been a definite shift in the market towards a more meritocratic system of advancement and remuneration, it is apparent that many law firms are still far better equipped to offer the former incentives than they are the latter.

We have certainly noticed changes among younger lawyers.  Jobs at the elite firms are still sought after of course, but for how long do they plan to stay?  It’s commonplace for lawyers to target the most prestigious firms in order to ‘earn their stripes’ but many of them expect to be long gone before Partnership is even on the agenda.  This might solve some of the problems with overcrowding at the top of the hierarchy, but if the wrong people are leaving, it also has the potential to leave less progressive firms saddled with the task of bringing in laterals to replace ageing Partners as well as to fuel growth.

On the other hand this also opens a door for the more forward thinking practices that are able to harness the attractions of a ‘modern’ work place and set themselves apart from the market norm.  Access the recruitment pages of most major law firm websites nowadays and you will see any number of these buzz words – indeed, we come across few who don’t consider their selves to be ‘collegiate’!

For those who go beyond window dressing though, making genuine efforts to modernise, the rewards could be substantial.  Of course wages need to be competitive but in our experience, few lawyers leave a firm where they are happy, for money alone.  If predictions are to be believed, and our early anecdotal evidence supports it, firms that offer responsibility and remuneration based on achievement, exposure to clients, involvement in business development and the opportunity to make some contacts, will have their pick of the best that ‘Generation Y’ has to offer.  So whilst the natural reaction to a less loyal workforce might be an effort to institutionalise client relationships and hence reduce the impact of departures, this may well be counter-productive as savvy lawyers will realise the need to be somewhere they can give themselves a shot at making a business case for Partnership.  On the contrary, if a firm can demonstrate a more transparent strategy that affords lawyers at all levels the opportunity to build their contacts, continue developing their expertise, earn a decent salary and work with people they get on with, the chances of recruiting and retaining the best are dramatically improved.

Some major international firms are close to achieving this but plenty of well-known names have a lot to do.  If the economy continues to rise, recruitment will become ever more competitive.  Will these changes come to fruition or will the new breed of lawyers, when subjected to the advent of time, mortgages and family, end up clinging on to the best paid job they can find just like everyone else?!

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