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Legal Intelligencer: Edward T. Kang on How to Effectively Work With Millennials as Employees and Clients

Edward T. Kang, EsquireIn the June 22, 2017 edition of The Legal Intelligencer, KHF Managing Member Edward T. Kang writes on How to Effectively Work With Millennials as Employees and Clients.

How to Effectively Work With Millennials as Employees and Clients

By Edward T. Kang

Millennials—generally defined as the generation born between 1981-1997—have defined themselves as a distinct population that has different expectations in the workplace. As millennials currently represent the largest segment of the workforce, at nearly three times the size of the preceding generation, it is incumbent upon seasoned professionals to ensure to acclimate millennials to our workplaces. We are all familiar with the stereotypes of millennials—that their work ethic is lacking, or that an “everybody gets a trophy” mentality has left them unprepared for the workforce. Yet these stereotypes have been consistently debunked by the accomplishments of young people across our profession (see, e.g., Lauren Stiller Rikleen, “How the ‘Millennial’ Generation Works,” The American Bar Association).

The decision-makers at many law firms, who tend to be older, white and male (and who may have spent their entire career at just one or two firms), can appear out-of-step with millennial employees and clients and be less responsive to their needs and motivations. How our profession adapts to millennial employees and clients is one of the largest challenges we face in the coming years.

Working With Millennials as Employees

• Flexibility.

It is no wonder why millennials are drawn to companies like Google with colorful workspaces and casual dress codes. While we cannot expect law firms to imitate Google’s office, firms can offer flexibility in their workplace environments as long as productivity and client service remains constant. For example, as millennials do not rely on in-person interactions as much as older generations. They do not believe face time in an office necessarily equate to work product. Billable hours do not necessarily need to take place in the office, nor do client meetings all occur during the typical 9-to-5 schedule. Millennials enjoy being independent and are accustomed to being drawn in a myriad of directions. Hours that are customarily reserved for productivity may not appeal to millennials and flexible work arrangements may be the new norm.

• Tech-savvy.

In this era, even the traditional institutions of the legal system, such as the courts, use technology to their advantage. Lawyers at both large and small firms have increasingly incorporated new technology into their business, and millennial-driven policies like bring your own device (BYOD) allow firms to keep up with constantly changing technology. The use of one’s own device allows for employees to work more efficiently on a system on devices they are accustomed to using. Such a policy can also help to reduce costs. While allowing employees to use personal devices like laptops and smartphones raises questions of privacy and the security of client information, these problems are not insurmountable. Rather than seeing this as a potential concern, firms should embrace the challenge and learn from millennials and their tech-savviness since technology will only continue to advance at a more rapid pace. It is likely that millennials know best how to leverage technology or know about some information sharing system or device that may not be known to senior lawyers in the firm.

Comfortable with an ever-changing social climate, millennials seek firms that can build up their social media presence and use it to reach out to the community and professional networks. Potential employees want to be able to search for information on a firm or particular lawyers, and see links to forms of social media. Firms that do this will build up the trust of millennials and be ahead of the curve. Moreover, an impressive website not only is professional but attracts clients and increases business for the firm. That competitive advantage over other firms will not go unnoticed by potential employees.

• Conforming.

The 2008 recession changed the mindset of millennials as many were unable to find and sustain employment. Millennials felt there was an unwillingness to commit on the part of the employer and an overall distrust in millennials’ education, skills and work ethic. In turn, millennials are challenging the typical structure of our profession. The days where a lawyer joins a firm out of law school and remains there for the entirety of his career are largely gone. Millennials are seeking more fleeting experience as they are hesitant to commit. The opportunity to become partner is not as desirable as it once was in a culture where changes are rapidly occurring and opportunities are far more readily available. Millennials are eager to work, hard working at their job, but likely to leave upon gaining experience (see Sue Remley, “Retaining Millennials at Law Firms Requires Change,” The National Law Review (July 11, 2016)).

• Values.

Millennials came of age in a time when community service, being part of something bigger than yourself and making a change in the world were highly valued skills that were fostered to help with college admissions and networking. To that end, firms should emphasize how basic tasks fit in with the larger picture and be a part of the whole process from beginning to end rather than merely receiving a directive. These values have stuck along with an emphasis on collaboration and teamwork that are part of any millennial’s skill set. Millennials on the whole also tend to be more tolerant than older generations, and value diversity in the workplace. Law firms should keep in mind that fostering an open and inclusive workplace will help retain valued millennial employees.

• Accessibility.

Millennials are accustomed to the ability to get information right at their fingertips. The accessibility of information allows for potential employees to find out the culture at a firm through online networks and websites that give potential employees the perspective of past and current employees. Firms should be transparent and clear about what the work culture is like, what expectations are and how one is performing.

The transparency that millennials seek should be established in both the physical and social environment of the firm. Though much information can be sought online, Millennials still heed the advice of elders in the firm. In my firm, I keep an open-door policy that creates a more open work space and expresses a willingness for immediate interactions. Since millennials are accustomed to instantaneous feedback and responses, due to their relationship with technology, they have high expectations of the same from in-person exchanges. They want to be able to receive information and advice from others in the same way that the internet can provide.

Working With Millennial Clients

It is not merely the pool of talent that we need to work to attract to our firms but millennial clients as well. Startups such as Legal Zoom, Axiom and others have created a whole new market of more affordable, online, legal services, targeted to consumers (and potential clients) who expect to be able to get most of the information and services they need over the internet. By following a few online steps, filling out some forms, and a phone call, all their needs are met without the face to face interaction and meetings. Companies like these are part of the increasing commodification of legal services, and are allowing internet-savvy customers to obtain services online that law firms once provided. To adapt, firms will need to not only be technologically advanced, but also clear about how their services add value over the services clients can find for low prices online. Firms will need to convey that their services are not comparable to online services.

In the past year alone I have experienced a shift in my own clients toward a more technology-based practice. The use of Dropbox or other file sharing protocols to share documents with clients or even Uber to deliver documents across the city has become more widespread. Millennial clients’ first thoughts when seeking a service is to hit the internet. Only those firms with a robust internet presence, be it a website, Facebook, or even Instagram, will appear as viable options for millennials. Clients will be drawn to firms that offer accessibility and flexibility when it comes to meetings particularly if it caters to an environment that the client is more comfortable in.

Conclusion

Contrary to many preconceptions, fed by media reports stereotyping millennials and blaming them for all manner of social ills, millennials have proven to be dynamic and valuable part of our legal community. Law firms that wish to compete long-term will need to adapt to the unique expectations of millennials, both as employees and as clients. Working successfully with millennials is not an option for law firm leaders who seek to provide competitive services to their clients and to ensure their firms’ future.

Reprinted with permission from the June 22 edition of The Legal Intelligencer”© 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or reprints@alm.com

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