Nicole R Dyszlewski, Esq. Head of Reference, Instruction, and Engagement; RWU School of Law Library, Suzanne Harrington-Steppen, Esq., Associate Director of Pro Bono Programs, Director of the Summer Public Interest Externship Program; RWU School of Law
Whether you are a baby boomer (someone born in the years from 1946 to 1964), a member of Generation X (someone born in the years from 1965-1982), or a lawyer who is older or younger, you have or will have experience working with members of the millennial generation. The millennial generation is about to be the largest living generation of adults. They will be leading our profession, setting professional norms, and influencing the practice of law for decades to come. Sometimes maligned for being lazy and/or unreliable, so-called millennials bring a new perspective and new skills to a legal workspace. These new cultural norms can sometimes cause friction but may also be opportunities for growth for lawyers of any age.
Who Are the Millennials?
To understand millennials, we must start by identifying some general characteristics with an understanding that these are generalizations and there are vast differences between individuals. Millennials (someone born in the years from 1982-1996) were raised in a child-centric culture, which for many of them means they are confident, optimistic, and inquisitive.1 They celebrate diversity, cannot live without technology, and respect authority without being in awe of it?2 They also believe in work/life balance and expect flexibility, both in where they work and how they work. Millennials assume they will change jobs several times during their careers both for economic reasons and to stay engaged in their work. They have an entrepreneurial spirit.3
What This Means for Your Workplace
Bringing in a new generation of workers can mean different things for different law firms. Despite the differences in organization size, culture, management, and mission, one thing is the same: all legal workplaces "need to master the art of multigenerational issues for internal success and external (client) understanding."4 For larger law firms like Nixon Peabody LLP, learning to "speak millennial" has been going on for a few years with formal trainings and strategic approaches to hiring and retaining young talent, according to partner Armando Batastini. "We value diversity of all types, and recognize that a diversity of ideas and backgrounds creates a better business. With this fundamental in mind, we have consciously sought to understand and integrate millennials as an important part of our present and future." But if you are a solo practitioner, part of a small law firm, or work in a governmental institution, you can also benefit from understanding and appreciating millennials. You may learn something from millennials that might make you happier and more successful. Millennials are a driving force behind workplace change. Here are three ways in which you might have something to learn from the millennial approach.5
1. You May Have Been Wrong About Work/Life Balance
Historically, many lawyers have struggled with achieving a work/life balance. One article explains, "The problem is that law school embeds a 'no boundaries' mindset about the practice of law...Associates in large firms know that mentality continues into practice...In most larger firms, associates are still working in a kind of extended boot camp, where it's 'let's see who can survive the pressure.' But for many, the alternative - starting their own firm - can be a nastier edition of the same game. Struggling to make a living. Then seeing the work expand to take over their lives -without an escape clause. They just have to keep working harder as the firm grows, because 'I'm making good money, my name is on the...