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September 1, 2020

Demographics, Diversity, and the Power of a Cross-Generational Firm

Today’s workforce is made up of four generations of workers, each with its own work styles, needs, and expectations. Consider that the median age for lawyers in 2019 was 47.5 years old (five years older, incidentally, than the median age of all U.S. workers). That means half of lawyers fall into the Gen Z or Millennial categories, and the other half are part of Gen X or the Baby Boomer generation.

While not every legal professional within a generational group is exactly the same, having a better understanding of each can help you not only attract top talent to your organization, but also create a more productive, cross-generational workforce. Let’s take a look at the way each generation of legal pros typically works, the technology and tools they might prefer, and the benefits they’re likely looking for from potential employers.

Gen Z Legal Professionals

Professionals born after 1995 are referred to as Gen Z. While roughly 12% of all U.S. workers are younger than 25, few lawyers fall into this demographic, likely because they’re still in school. Members of Gen Z are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and generally want to work for organizations who value diversity and inclusion.

Gen Z at Work
A recent study found that the majority of young professionals are interested in working for large law firms after graduation. About 20% plan to join a mid-sized firm, while 11% say they’ll join a nonprofit. As a whole, Gen Z’ers want to take on responsibility and they want their work to be meaningful. Many of these workers were born in a post-9/11 America and now, in the midst of COVID-19, face an uncertain future. It’s fair to say they’re accustomed to a constantly-changing world, and because of this tend to adapt well to sudden changes. While this latest generation to enter the workforce may take the traditional path into Big Law, they’re more likely to express cynicism about certain elements of law firm culture, according to a new survey.

Gen Z and Technology
Adept at multi-tasking, nearly half of these digital natives are on their smart phones “almost constantly,” and more than 60% would rather leave their wallet at home than their mobile device. They have little to no memory of a world before smartphones, and not only welcome technology, but expect access to tools that can improve productivity and efficiency.

Benefits for Gen Z
When it comes to evaluating a potential job offer, according to a recent study, 30% of Gen Z legal pros put compensation at the top of the list (for another 33% it comes in a close second). A quarter of respondents ranked formal mentoring and training number one when it comes to benefits.

Gen Z Management Tip
Pair Boomers at your firm with Gen Z recruits for mentoring opportunities and offer tech-based training not only during onboarding, but as ongoing professional development.

Millennial Legal Professionals

Born between 1980 and 1995, Millennials are motivated by training, mentoring and feedback, and they aren’t afraid to switch jobs to get ahead.

Millennials at Work
Millennials came of age during the Great Recession and want to believe they can make the world a better place through their work. While Gen Xers began putting an emphasis on “work-life balance” in the 1990s, Millennials resist the notion of separating work’s ambitions from life’s desire; for these professionals, they’re part of the same continuum. Unlike Boomers and Gen X’ers who patiently “paid their dues,” Millennial lawyers won’t hesitate to try a new firm or career, not just when they’re unhappy, but when they’re not happy enough. Millennials also value results over tenure and can become frustrated with the length of time it takes to work up the career ladder.

Millennials and Technology
Culture, collaboration, and access to the latest technologies are important to these professionals. Nearly 60% of Millennials said that state-of-the art technology was important to them when considering a job, according to a PwC survey. In fact, technology is as important to Millennials at work as it is in their personal lives.

Benefits for Millennials
Millennials come to the workplace with an enthusiasm to contribute and make a real difference. They grew up enjoying peer-like relationships with the adults in their lives and may expect this same type of mentorship to continue at work.

They were also likely raised with information at their fingertips and expect to know how their work affects an organization’s greater purpose. Millennials aren’t they only generation that appreciates explanations and context, but they are often more vocal about this desire than other generations might be. They want management to take the time to explain why leadership is implementing a new strategy, for example. For Millennials, transparency breeds trust.

Millennial Management Tip
Provide not only professional opportunities, but personal and charitable ones as well. Promote an open-door policy and the free flow of ideas to give younger associates access to senior partners.

Gen X Legal Professionals

Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen X professionals are 40-55 years old. This generation commonly refers to itself as “the latchkey generation.”

Gen X at Work
Gen Xers prefer to work independently and with minimal supervision. They are motivated by growth opportunities, mentor relationships, flexible schedules, and management recognition. They aren’t as eager to put in face time, and work harder to achieve work-life balance.

Gen X and Technology
More than 90% of this generation owns a mobile device, and they spend more hours a week on it than Millennials. Gen Xers still favor traditional learning, such as formal workshops and seminars, but also appreciate the personalization and convenience of technology-based tools.

Gen X was raised on technology, making them a bridge between Boomers who are uncomfortable with technology, and Millennials, who can’t imagine not knowing how to use the latest tools. Gen X’ers tend to be frustrated with the seeming inability of law firms and other legal employers to onboard technology that can streamline work and increase flexibility.

Benefits for Gen X
Because they grew up as the latchkey generation, Gen X’ers came to rely on friends as family, and, eventually, demanded work-life balance in ways that were foreign to Boomers who worked long hours, but were richly rewarded for their efforts. These legal pros value paid time off, recognition for their work, and flexible schedules that allow them to better balance work and family.

Gen X Management Tip
Blend traditional training methods with tech-enabled tools to help them make the most of development opportunities. Offer flex-schedules and work from home opportunities.

Baby Boomer Legal Professionals

Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, making them 56 -74 years old. Roughly 15% of all lawyers are 65 or older, compared to just 7% of all U.S. workers who are 65 or older. That’s due in part to more lawyers postponing retirement.

Boomers at Work
This generation of professionals tends to be loyal and ambitious. Many lawyers entering their 70s are healthy and capable and want to continue practicing law. The majority continue to have a positive relationship with their firms and are willing to slowly turn over client relationships to the next generation of lawyers so that they can take more time off while still enjoying flexible work hours.

Boomers and Technology
As the popularity of mobility rises with this demographic, more and more Boomers are using mobile devices to stay connected. In 2018, mobile use grew 57% among Boomers over the previous year. This generation is much more tech-literate than the one before, and because of this they to tend to take full advantage of social media and internet-connected devices like tablets, smartphones, and other "smart" technologies. These pros likely understand that technology can allow them to continue working well past traditional retirement age. That said, their expectations around technology focus on trust. They need to know that the devices and applications they use will protect their privacy and keep their personal data secure.

Benefits for Boomers:
While they prefer monetary rewards, Boomers also are motivated by peer recognition. They tend to be less interested and less obligated to work long hours, partly due to their ranking status in many offices, and partly because they're less defined by their career ambitions than younger colleagues. "Quality of life" and "work-life balance" are important to this generation of professionals, and as such, they value organizations that offer job sharing, part-time work, and flex scheduling.

Boomer Management Tip
These seasoned pros have a wealth of knowledge and many choose to continue working well into their 60s and 70s. Consider a mentorship program that pairs each Boomer with a Gen Z professional to fill “knowledge gaps.”

On Diversity

When it comes to gender, male attorneys still greatly outnumber female attorneys, although the percentage began to shift as more women and fewer men enrolled in law school year. In 1991, 20% of lawyers were women; today, women make up 37% of all lawyers.

Both women and men of color – Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American and mixed race – are underrepresented in the industry. While 13% of the U.S. population is African American, just 5% of all lawyers are African American, according to the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey.

There are many benefits to a diverse workforce, not the least of which is that inclusive, more diverse companies tend to be more profitable. Law firms, such as Cleary Gottlieb, understand that in order to attract and provide value to a sophisticated, multinational client base, they need to create, develop and promote a pipeline of diverse talent. That requires a change in traditional recruiting and hiring methods. You can start by following these six fresh tactics for discovering top talent.

In the age of remote work, it can be difficult for teams to collaborate, especially those that are cross-generational and may prefer different methods of communicating. To encourage productivity and foster camaraderie, equip a small conference room with “always ready” video conferencing tools. This helps remote employees in every demographic feel more connected to their peers and encourages spontaneous collaborations and conversations, a critical component of a successful organization.

If you’re searching for the perfect legal professional, JurisTemps can help. We’ve been assisting St. Louis’ law firms and legal departments speed up their recruiting process and increase diversity for more than 20 years. Our long-standing relationships with St. Louis-based legal professionals can give your organization an edge. Contact us today – we look forward to assisting you!

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