Generation Z: new challenges in a multigenerational law firm

Published: 13 Sep 2018 By Jon Needham, Chadwick Nott

Over the last decade we’ve seen the advent of the ABS, the non-equity partnership model, the PLC and the virtual law firm. Whilst representative of a shift away from “traditional” law firm structures, these instances are still the exception rather than the rule.

But what about the legal workforce itself?

There are now up to five generations working in a typical law firm, each with its own values, demands, needs and wants. You’ve probably heard of the Generation X (sometimes referred to as the latch-key kids or MTV generation) and the Generation Y / Millennials, (celebrated for their tech savviness and entrepreneurialism but often berated for a lack of appetite for “hard work” and a misplaced sense of entitlement), but what about the newest generation that are entering the workforce? Those born after 1995, (Generation Z) know a very different world to their parents and predecessors.

Born at a time when the widespread use of mobile phones and the internet was taking off (as a Generation X’er, I remember sending my first email at university in 1996.. and I got my first Nokia 3310 mobile in 1999), Generation Z has grown up in an age of constant connectivity to the world. They have no experience of a world without technology – all they know is high speed internet, smart tech, tablets, instant messaging with peers and the wider world and having limitless information available at their fingertips.

The traditional legal market is probably not ready for Gen Z, although things are changing as an awareness of the multigenerational workplace becomes more prevalent. We’ve already seen a swing towards greater agility in the legal workplace throughout the last decade. Flexible / part-time working and remote working facilities have become much more common and the often maligned concept of working from home has been replaced by the accepted wisdom that allowing employees greater flexibility in the way they work and when, breeds loyalty and helps keep their staff motivated, engaged, and more productive. The advent of better technology has largely facilitated this but it is all conditional upon employers’ changing attitudes.

As “digital natives” and a product of the digital age and the environment around them, the consensus is that Gen Z is socially conscious, flexible and free thinking by nature – open to challenging the status quo and valuing the face-to-face engagement that comes with an appreciation of technology that allows both visual and audible interaction. Gen Z will have different expectations when it comes to what it means to have a fulfilling career within the legal sector. Goal orientated and with a preference for social interaction and active learning, Gen Z will be even more entrepreneurial and flexible that Millennials; they will likely choose work life balance over salary and will want nimble and fast career progression. Can the legal sector, which has traditionally struggled to break free of its accepted norms, offer what they are looking for?

The way law firms manage generational differences within the workplace is important. Arguably, the way firms are themselves managed will also need to evolve and change, in order to create a culture suited to the shifting values of its future associates, leaders, managers and “partners” and keep them happy within the legal sector.

Ultimately, the traditional partnership track may well seem too slow for Gen Z who has been brought up on a lifestyle informed by constant praise and instant gratification. Could it be that the shape of the traditional law firm holy grail (ie partnership) will change? Gen Z may well question the validity of waiting circa.10 years to become a law firm owner, and the convention of worshipping the billable hour as the key to getting ahead of the game. Do they really want or need this in order to be professionally fulfilled? They will however want greater employee engagement, flexibility to suit their personal beliefs and the chance to influence the organisations in which they operate, outside of traditional convention. If not, will Gen Z simply vote with its feet and look for an alternative path?

Chadwick Nott is one of the longest established legal recruitment consultancies in the UK. So whether you’re a Baby Boomer, a Millennial, Generation X, Y or Z or whether you think the whole idea is a nonsense, but are interested in exploring your career options or require some confidential advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Jon Needham on 0121 200 5571 or by email at jonneedham@chadwicknott.co.uk

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