Millennials and the practice of law

Beth Sears
BridgeTower Media Newswires

The workplace has changed dramatically, with five generations working side-by-side for the first time in history. Each generation views the world of work differently, based on their life experiences growing up, causing a rift between those of another generation.

Let’s take a quick look at the different generations and see what influenced each generation. The two older generations — traditionalist, born before 1946, and baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 —lived to work. The traditionalists were influenced by World War II and the military hierarchy found its way into the workplace. Chain of command was how work was accomplished. When the boomers entered to workforce, leaders were almost always older than their younger counterparts and the mindset was you had to work your way up and earn your stripes. Boomers rocked the boat, changing the way people dressed and how decisions were made. The two older generations lived to work and, although motivated for different reasons, work was the focus of their lives.

Boomers were the first generation to experience increased divorce, so more women entered the workforce. This created latchkey kids, which meant Gen Xers went home after school to an empty house. They were told, “Don’t answer the phone, do your homework, and start dinner.” They were left along to figure things out, so they hate being micromanaged and want more work/life balance.

They saw their parent’s dedication to an organization rewarded by being downsized. Gone were the days of a 25-year retirement and a gold watch! When they became parents, they did not want that for their children, so they became much more involved with their families. As “helicopter” parents they participated in their children’s lives and worked to build their self-esteem. Everyone got a trophy for trying and made the team. Now these young people are in the workforce and looking for their trophy for trying — only to be told they have an entitlement mentality and need to work for it!

By next year, about 50% of the workforce will be millennials or younger and by 2025 that will jump to about 70%. With 10,000 boomers retiring every day, It’s imperative to build bridges between the generations to maintain productivity. It is critical to develop a plan to engage and retain these young attorneys.

By learning about the life experiences that created each generation’s world view, people begin to understand each other. There are many things you can do to improve how people interact in your multi-generational law practice.

Identify the communication styles the different generations use to begin to come together and work as a team.

Each generation brings value, and millennials want to be mentored. An excellent way to retain information before the boomers leave is to create opportunities for them to work together on projects or develop mentoring relationships.

Recognition is key for younger generations. More than any other generation, millennials want to be included in important work that makes significant impact, which results in recognition.

Millennials want to have a noble purpose, and they are very focused on how their work can impact the world at large. Develop a strategic communication process to be used in recruiting as well as retention.

As with other generations, these young people expect the way they were raised will somehow play out in the workplace. The relationship they enjoyed with their parents was one of high trust, so they function most effectively in a high-trust environment. Research indicates they’re 20 times more likely to stay in an organization if trust is high. They also knew they could go to their parents with questions at any time, so they expect the same at work. This constant feedback and communication they enjoyed leads them to expect it at work; when they don’t receive communication, they assume something is wrong and begin to disengage.

The key is not to stereotype or pigeonhole anyone based on age, as it’s only one thing influencing how a person behaves. Research has indicated the millennial generation splits in two somewhere around the age of 30, where half become responsible and half remain appearing “entitled.”

Change your mindset regarding others and find ways to engage your people.


Beth Sears, Ph.D., president of Workplace Communication, Inc. is an interpersonal and organizational communication expert. Using her unique approach, Beth has helped leaders to clarify their vision and create language that inspires and engages their workforce, resulting in collaborative, focused teams. Contact her at (585) 538-6360.