Big Law, Generation Z, and The Legal Profession — A Conversation With Joshua Lenon of Clio

As part of our series on Generation Z and the legal profession, we recently met with Joshua Lenon, lawyer-in-residence at Clio, an international legal software company. Lenon has worked extensively to educate lawyers on technology’s capability to enhance their practice, while also teaching tech companies about the unique needs of the legal system. He’s a Gen Xer with powerful insights into Gen Z recruiting and the legal community in general.

Joshua Lenon of Clio. Courtesy photo

Joshua Lenon, “lawyer-in-residence” for Clio, a legal software company.

I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, so I’m often down a rabbit hole researching a question on behalf of our product team or our sales team, who are like “this law firm does what?”

But then I’m also acting as an educational evangelist, really talking about the research that we do, the lessons that I have learned, the things that have been taught to me by customers and lawyers who are generous enough to share their time and it’s creating what I hope is a very virtuous cycle between the legal profession and legal technology to transparently look at how we can be helping each other in a win-win environment.

Joshua Lenon Interview – Part 1

Where’s the Road Map?

Obviously, there’s a road map somewhere of how to get from associate to partner to leadership, but it’s not shared with the associates.

It’s not shared, and they’re not building supports along the way on that path: guideposts, mentorship, opportunities. In the past it’s been, hopefully, you find a partner that likes you, that has time to answer questions, you have your own network that you can start turning into a book of business, because you’re not going to be getting business from a partner. That’s their origination fee, that’s their client, and so there’s always been this kind of struggle where you’re almost intentionally kept in the dark due to the perverse incentives, the lack of sharing in law firms. “If I don’t share, I make more money,” and instead it’s led to this situation, and it became especially problematic about five years ago where a lot of these bigger law firms realized they had driven away the people who are going to keep the law firm going for the next five to 10 years.

Suddenly, there just weren’t enough partners billing hours. They’re nearing retirement age, their clients are transitioning to other firms, and if they wanted the law firm to continue and to support the existing partners, they needed to bring people in quick, and they needed those people to be equity partners.

We see a lot of laterals in Big Law because of that realization. “We’re just going to grab partners from other firms and do whatever it takes to keep our law firm going because we didn’t plan for generational succession.”

Not-So Best Practices

Where do you see law firms holding onto established ways of doing business that are harming them?

We know, because of the sharing of Generation Z, that they are a lot more open to what has worked for their peers. Law firms, if they’re looking to really court this new generation, need to be able to demonstrate a path to success for their new hires. And so rather than just talking about your starting salary, which is important, but also talk about what will be the outcomes of the work. What will be the career milestones that should be expected when you succeed? And what’s the path that the law firm is setting up to get that new hire to those milestones?

Often a law firm will present the starting point: Here’s your salary and then this brass ring at the end: partnership. But they don’t really talk about what the firm’s going to do to move the new hire from starting position to brass ring. Instead, there’s always been this kind of “up or out” mentality. You either figure out how to move up, or you exit the law firm.

What suggestions would you have for changes that these law firms need to make?

First of all, they do need to recognize there’s not a one-size-fits-all path to partner anymore. And we know this in a whole variety of different situations, most of which are about equity. For example, the dearth of female and people of color partners in larger law firms, even though there is an incredibly large percentage of those people entering the legal profession. Over half the law students right now are women and have been for a long time, yet their rise to partnership has been stymied because of these past approaches. We need to bring in flexibility.

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