Report: Millennials want to make partner, but take different path than older attorneys

Keywords Law Firms

Generational differences between baby boomer and millennial attorneys have created stark differences in how members of those generations approach their day-to-day tasks, but in terms of career goals, young attorneys today have the same long-term aspirations as their predecessors.

According to the results of a survey conducted by Above the Law and Major Lindsey & Africa, partnership is still the most common long-term career goal for millennial attorneys, with 43.6 percent of millennial associates saying in 10 years, they see themselves becoming a partner at either their current or another firm.

However, the path to partnership looks different for a millennial than it might have to a baby boomer or even a member of Generation X. For example, while it was common among baby boomers to take a job at a firm right out of law school and remain at the same firm until their retirement, one-third of millennial junior associates who responded to the survey indicated that they planned to leave their firm in two years or less.

Among associates of all levels, one-third indicated that they would like to stay at their firm long enough to make partner. However, nearly a quarter said they would leave within two years, and only about 28 percent planned to stay at their firms for five years. Despite that trend, roughly 70 percent of millennials described themselves as loyal to their employers, the survey found.

Keeping young associates at their current jobs is a matter of finding the right “firm culture,” respondents said. Asked what the most important factors would be in accepting a firm’s employment offer, roughly 60 percent of respondents said firm culture.

Among the most important elements of a firm’s culture is a commitment to work-life balance, the respondents said, a departure from the mindset of older generations, which often expected employees to put their professional responsibilities before family needs.

“In the past, most lawyers would not openly state that they desired a balance between work and personal life,” Michelle Fivel, a Major Lindsey & Africa partner, said in a statement. “However, to the millennial generation, work-life balance is much less taboo. In fact, millennial lawyers are nearly demanding it of firms, causing firms to offer remote work, off-track roles and other flexible arrangements.”

But the survey also showed that other elements of firm culture commonly associated with millennials are also receiving attention from older attorneys. For example, when asked if a diverse and inclusive workforce should be a firm priority, 39.61 percent of associates strongly agreed, compared to 57.5 percent of partners. While diversity and inclusion is a common and even expected part of millennial culture, Major Lindsey & Africa partners said from the perspective of older attorneys, creating a diverse workforce may be less about culture and more about client care.

“The fact that partners seem to care about the legal industry’s diversity problem more than associates indicate that partners view the problem from a business perspective,” Ru Bhatt, managing director in Major Lindsey & Africa’s associate practice group, said in a statement. “Partners feel the pressure of clients demanding more diverse teams and see the positive impact of these teams, which amounts to understanding of diversity’s crucial role.”

Among other survey results was a finding that in-house counsel positions are not the only alternatives millennials consider when looking to exit the BigLaw partner track. While 18.75 percent of respondents said they would look for an in-house counsel position, roughly 16 percent said they see themselves doing government or non-profit work, while 6.25 percent said they plan to run their own firm or practice. However, no respondents had plans to work in legal academia, and 8.82 percent indicated that in 10 years, they would likely not be practicing law.

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