If your firm has been spending big bucks on branding, paying fat bonuses or packing associates off for courses at Harvard Business School, too bad, so sad! You’ve just wasted your partners’ hard-earned money.
Rather than those high-priced items, young lawyers care much more about squishier things like firm culture and work/life balance, according to a new survey of more than 1,200 lawyers (over 90 percent of the respondents were associates).
So does that mean that associates want to revolutionize Big Law or eventually drop out entirely?
Here are some highlights from the Major, Lindsey & Africa survey:
• Firm culture ranks as the No. 1 factor in millennials’ calculation about job offers.
• Work/life balance is the second most important factor.
• Only 50 percent ranked compensation as a key factor.
• The least important considerations are the firm’s prestige and training.
To me, these young lawyers are either delusional or lying through their teeth. Or just a bundle of contradictions.
Get this: Despite reports that millennials are disillusioned with the game, an astonishing 44 percent predict that they will be law firm partners (34 percent expect to do so at their current firm). What’s more, 66 percent say they are “confident” or “very confident” that they will achieve their career goals.
What’s with the high self-regard? Unlike many of their predecessors, this group truly wants to be lawyers, says MLA partner Michelle Fivel, one of the study’s authors. “They chose to go to law school during or after the recession. They went in with their eyes wide open.”
Another surprise: This generation is more smitten with making partner than going in-house. “There’s been a shift, and they understand there’s more stability with firms,” says Ru Bhatt, an MLA managing director who co-authored the report. “They feel better informed about firms,” adds Bhatt, noting that law firm compensation has been steadily rising.
If so many are gunning for partnership, are they truly serious about making work/life balance a priority? “They feel they should have it all,” Fivel says. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll work less hard; they just don’t want to do it at the office. “They’ve used technology their whole lives, and they feel they can be accessible without being tied to desk.”
And what’s all this stuff about millennials not caring about the brand name? All things being equal, does anyone seriously believe that someone would forsake Cravath, Swaine & Moore to go to a no-name firm in Burlington, Vermont, just because the latter gives off a better vibe?
“Well, I think they’re still thinking about the Am Law 200 firms,” Fivel says. “I don’t think they’re planning on going so far down the chain.”
Indeed, there’s little indication that millennials are more idealistic or principled. For all the talk about work/life balance, “commitment to progressive family-friendly policies” only garnered a 5.37 score out of 10 from respondents in terms of importance. That’s also the same score for “commitment to corporate social responsibility.” And when it comes to diversity, more partners (82.5 percent) than associates (72.08 percent) rated it as a high priority.
(Interesting side note: 60 percent of respondents in survey agree that “U.S. law firm culture is inherently sexist.” Left unsaid: What will this group do once it is in power.)
As much as “culture” ranks high on associates’ list of priorities, millennials care little whether their clients share their cultural outlook. (To all you firms representing Donald Trump or his family, no worries.) “You hear about how associates won’t work for firms that represent Big Tobacco, but that’s not what we saw,” Bhatt says. “They don’t expect clients to share their values.”
In other words, Big Law shouldn’t worry so much about pleasing millennials. They’re not plotting any revolution. They’re pragmatic and ambitious—a combination that should keep billables going up and up.
So here’s the plan: Don’t shell out big bucks for programs they don’t care about. Just give them a semblance of autonomy (like letting them work where they want) and whisper the prospect of partnership in their ears. Chances are, they’ll bust their buns. Just like they’ve always done.