This story is part of a series exploring how law firms and others in the legal industry are adapting to manage their millennial workers, from recruitment and real estate to training and technology and beyond. Read our overview here.
The youth movement is settling in at Texas firms, particularly at five large firms where millennials make up a higher-than-average percentage of each firm’s lawyers.
Millennials account for 43 percent of lawyers at the nearly 400 large U.S. firms included in a report compiled by ALM Intelligence. Five large Texas firms exceed that 43 percent share of millennial lawyers, with Vinson & Elkins coming in with the highest percentage of millennial lawyers: 54 percent.
That means that more than half of the lawyers at V&E were born between 1981 and 1999, or are between the ages of 18 and 36.
V&E Chairman Mark Kelly, a partner in Houston, said he’s not surprised that more than half of the firm’s lawyers are 36 or younger, considering the Houston-based firm conducts consistent recruiting of first-year lawyers.
David Botter, hiring partner for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said the same applies to his firm, where millennials account for 47 percent of the lawyers. Akin Gump’s lawyer population is refreshed every year, he said, with the firm each year bringing on about 50 new associates who came out of its summer program.
Strasburger & Price matched the national average with 43 percent, according to ALI data.
While millennials may soon account for half of all lawyers at the U.S. firms included in the ALI report, their power is probably less than their numbers would suggest, since 88 percent of them are associates and only 5 percent are partners. But as retirements—either voluntary or prompted by a mandatory retirement policy—slim the partnership ranks of lawyers who are older than millennials, that will change. Currently, Generation X, which describes lawyers age 37 to 52, accounts for 52 percent of partners, and baby boomers, who are age 53 to 71, make up 40 percent of partners. Lawyers who are even older make up 2 percent of partners at the firms in the report.
Houston and Dallas Firms Have Largest Percentage of Millennials
Broken down by city, millennials make up 42 percent of lawyers at large firms in Houston and 41 percent in Dallas. There are fewer in Austin and San Antonio.
Texas firms with large proportions of millennials differ in how the young lawyers influence firm operations.
Stephen Susman, founder of Susman Godfrey, said he didn’t think about how his firm’s lawyers fit into generational categories until a recent dinner with a New York University professor, who talked about the categories.
“We were talking about just how the world has changed. I’m the Silent Generation. My wife is a boomer. My children are Gen Xers,” Susman said, pointing out that a newer “generation” follows the millennials.
Millennials Have Impact on Firms
Susman said he did not realize until then that nearly half of the firm’s lawyer are millennials, so it hasn’t led to changes. “We treat them all, everyone, the same. It’s probably why they are happy here,” he said.
In contrast, Botter, the Akin Gump hiring partner, said “talent development” is a priority, so the firm actively considers the sensibilities of younger lawyers, including millennials. He said firm management regularly sits down and talks to midlevel associates and first-years to learn what resonates with them and what the firm can do to enhance their development as a lawyer.
He said the firm is considering several new actions following a recent retreat with fourth-year lawyers, a group that falls solidly in the millennial category. The firm acted quickly on some of the concerns the midlevel associates discussed with Kim Koopersmith, the firm’s chairperson, Botter said, such as providing each associate and senior associate (which the firm calls counsel) with a budget for business development. That’s a departure from the norm, according to the findings of ALI’s recent new partners survey, where nearly half of the new Texas partners who participated in the survey said their firm does not provide them with an individual budget for business development.
The firm also consults with younger lawyers, including young partners, about their technology needs, he said. They are “much more in tune with the advances in technology, constantly coming up with ideas on how they can improve their uses of technology, how they can make it easier to do their work,” he said.
In addition, Botter said that as a result of suggestions from younger lawyers, Akin Gump is working on a program to provide more frequent feedback to younger attorneys.
“We are trying to mix in another level of feedback on a major project basis, so people are getting real feedback in real time, rather than waiting for the end-of-the-year review,” he said.
V&E also recognizes that younger lawyers are more tech-savvy, said Kelly, the firm’s chairman. He said younger lawyers are more comfortable with social media, and more likely to want to work off-site with supporting technology.
They also tend to be more mobile, he said, and are less likely than lawyers of his generation to stay at one firm for their whole career.
“Many of them will have several jobs,” Kelly said. “Our goal is to make sure we keep them and retain them.”
The V&E partner said firms need to accommodate millennial lawyers because the group will provide the next generation of leaders.
“One of the reasons I’ve been here so long is that the enthusiasm and the vibrancy of the younger generation motivate me,” he said.