While many law firm owners will remain unmovable, locked into yesterday’s image of a law practice, you have the opportunity to make a pivot: You can capitalize on this changing dynamic by creating a workplace and positions that accommodate the Millennial and Gen Z mindsets.
If you want to attract and retain young lawyers and staff, you need to offer them the lifestyle they want- with built-in flexibility. If you want to move your law firm forward, you must embrace this new generation’s value system, even if it cuts against your personal work ethic principles. You don’t have to agree with it, but you must accept it and use it to your firm’s advantage. This is a time when the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer works well – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
You can’t change the value systems many Gen Zs and Millennials have.
You can’t go back to a time when employees didn’t know what remote work looked or felt like. The new normal is the real normal. Savvy law firm owners must embrace the change rather than trying to fight against it.
With this new reality in mind, here are some suggestions to help you attract, hire, and retain young lawyers and staff.
1. Create fully remote or hybrid remote positions in your firm, for both staff and lawyers.
This feels counterintuitive. Old school thought is that I need to see my employees at their desks to know they are working. Not so. The Pandemic shutdowns showed us that remote work is possible, and many employees are even MORE productive when they can work alone, rather than immersed in the drama and water cooler chit-chat that is an inevitable byproduct of brick-and-mortar offices. Be willing to hire employees and attorneys and trust them to get their work done. Of course, for this to work well, you must establish some built-in systems that provide needed oversight, management, and accountability. You must be willing to run reports that let you or your upper management know the hours staff are actually spending at their computers. You need to know when/if deadlines and benchmarks are being met, and quickly step in when they are not.
If you feel employees need to spend some time in the office, then create hybrid positions that require them to work in the office 3 days per week but allow them to work from home the other 2 days. Or visa versa. Hybrid positions, when feasible, give you and your staff the best of both worlds.
Give your young lawyers the freedom to work whenever and wherever they choose, as long as they are always in court on time and producing the results you expect. Hold them accountable and call them on the carpet if they fail to meet or exceed your expectations. They will likely respect you for the oversight. But remember to give them praise and affirmation, as well, when it is warranted.
2. Consider hiring part-time employees and lawyers.
Rather than having one full-time case manager managing 100 cases, consider hiring 2 part-time staff and divide the cases between them. The same goes for your attorney positions. You may be surprised how many young professionals are looking for part-time gigs that allow them to produce quality legal work, but also affords them the opportunity to pursue their other interests, or responsibilities. This is especially true for young women who are juggling career responsibilities with child-rearing. Don’t assume that because they are working part-time, that their work will be subpar.
For years I home-schooled my children and maintained a part-time adoption law practice from home. I certainly took my law practice responsibilities seriously and made it to court on time and prepared. My clients were more than satisfied with my work and I had the ability to spend more time with my children during their critical early years. Back then, I would have never found an employer willing to give me the flexibility I needed, so I started my own home-based law practice instead.
3. Display your firm’s community involvement prominently on your website and find ways to mention this in your job descriptions.
Millennials and Gen Zs want to work for companies that are committed to making the world a better place and that are willing to put their time and money where their mouth is. Law Firms are typically involved in community-sponsored projects, so make sure that you maintain this commitment and communicate it in places that prospective candidates can see it, including in job descriptions and on your firm’s website.
4. Maintain a commitment to and culture of work-life balance for all staff and attorneys. Communicate this commitment to them and to prospective hires in job descriptions and interviews.
Create a culture that values work-life balance. Encourage them to take time for community involvement and family events and responsibilities. Give them the flexibility to work alternative hours when necessary. They may want to come in early, stay late, or work on the weekends so that they can take time off during the work week. Trust them to meet or exceed your expectations. Many companies are now taking a tip from our European counterparts and using a 4-day work week model. You may find that your employees are even more productive in those 4 days than they ever were in the 5-day week. This is attracting and retaining this younger segment of the workforce.