Generational Diversity Project Highlights

The workforce today is comprised of five generations - the largest number of generations in the workforce in history. Millennials make up the largest percentage and are on track to represent 50% of the workforce by the end of 2020. From the traditionalists to generation Z, law firms are faced with a dynamic and ever-changing landscape and the steep challenge of creating a workplace where each generation can thrive.

Over the past year, we talked with over 200 members and heard a resounding confirmation that firms struggle with generational issues. We heard clearly that there are three critical areas that firms find most challenging when it comes to leveraging generational diversity:

  1. Retention of Talent
  2. Leadership Training & Opportunities, and
  3. Strategic Planning.

Ultimately, nobody feels they’ve got generational diversity all figured out. But, many firms are thinking about new ways of engaging in an attempt to recognize the opportunities that arise with today’s multi-generational workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic brought out many young lawyer voices who report that the shift to work from home had been a welcome change. We heard that individuals felt invigorated by more flexibility and found themselves more engaged and productive. Most reported that they do not plan to return to 5-days a week in the office.

This “silver lining” of the pandemic is innovation at play – taking a challenge and finding a way to inspire and engage employees. As younger lawyers lead the way on permanent work from home policies, firms will have a perfect opportunity to practice new ways of engaging the generations.

Retention of Talent

“We struggle with incentivizing talent to commit long-term to the firm” – survey comment

The business cost of attorney talent turnover is significant. Firms report that younger generations tend to leave early in their careers and it is disruptive to firm life and has a big impact on profits. That said, we also heard from junior lawyers that they have no problem making long-term commitments when they have ample career growth opportunities. The takeaway here is to build a deeper understanding of what junior lawyers are looking for and then take a hard look at Firm culture and operations. It’s clear that simply money and partnership are not the key and instead, junior lawyers want autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Firms that are listening to the next generation and adapting report increased retention. To that end, we heard a few ideas that are working to increase retention:

• Increased technology investments to support remote work and flexible work arrangements

• Work hard / play hard models – allowing mini sabbaticals or extended vacations for younger attorneys who go above and beyond

• Choose your own adventure career support – firms with internal career coaches that allow young lawyers to dabble in multiple practice areas before deciding on a final area to build long-term expertise

Leadership Training & Opportunities

“It can be challenging to have partners adopt a mentality that leads to easier succession and better leadership training of the next generation” – survey comment

It is critical to find ways to successfully elevate the next generation of leaders into firm leadership positions. Although almost all firms reported how important this issue is for their long-term success, few firms felt they had it figured out. Pain points came in two specific areas. First, Member firms report a struggle with how to provide adequate leadership training to the next generation of leaders. Second, firms see an increase of senior partners working later into life and holding on to leadership positions and key client relationships. What to do? Here are a few programs we heard about that seem to be helping:

• Routine investment in formal leadership training for senior associates and new partners

• Guaranteed compensation for senior lawyers to support their decreased billable hours as they invest in transitioning client relationships

• Professional executive coaching for leaders stepping down to support the transition back to full-time practice

• Deputy leadership roles to give junior partners a “chief of staff” style role 1-2 years prior to taking over key firm management – helping both senior lawyers transition out and junior partners prepare for leadership

Strategic Planning

“Biggest challenges: Innovation in leadership. Biggest opportunities: Innovation in leadership.” – survey comment

Leadership demands of law firms have changed dramatically over the last two decades. It’s no longer enough to be brilliant practitioners with long-standing client relationships to compete in today’s legal marketplace. Strategic planning lags behind in cultivating innovative ways to compete and deliver client services. Firms identified a challenge in bringing innovation and leadership skills such as servant leadership, vulnerability and cultural competency into strategic planning efforts. Many firms mentioned that tapping the next generation of leaders would be the key to strategic planning success. We heard about the following initiatives that were helping bring new voices into strategic planning:

• Innovation committees that are multi-generational and tied directly to strategic planning activities

• Making strategic planning a constantly present and dynamic part of firm life rather than an every 5-7 year “check-the-box” activity

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