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The Young and the Restless

Vivia Chen

May 5, 2017

Careerist-Bored-Article-201704191607

They're either delusional or lying through their teeth. Or just a bundle of contradictions.

According to a new survey of more than 1,200 lawyers (over 90 percent of the respondents were associates), young lawyers at big firms aren't quite as jaded as we thought. The difference is that they want more control over their lives. What's unclear, though, is how much they truly want to change the profession.

Here are some highlights from the Major Lindsey & Africa survey:

 - Firm culture ranks as the number one factor in millennials' calculation about job offers.

-  Work/life balance is the second most important factor.

-  Only 50 percent ranked compensation as a key factor.

-  The least important considerations are the firm's prestige and training.

If your firm has been spending big bucks on branding, paying fat bonuses or packing associates off for courses at Harvard Business School, too bad, so sad. You've just wasted your partners' hard earned money.

Rather than those high-price items, young lawyers care much more about squishier things like firm culture and work/life balance. So does that mean that they want to revolutionize Big Law or eventually drop out entirely?

No. Despite reports that millennials are disillusioned with the game, an astonishing 44 percent predict that they will be law firm partners (34 percent expect to do so at their current firm). What's more, 66 percent say they are "confident" or "very confident" that they will achieve their career goals.

What's with the high self-regard? Unlike many of their predecessors, this group truly wants to be lawyers, says MLA partner Michelle Fivel, one of the study's authors. "They chose to go to law school during or after the recession. They went in with their eyes wide open."

Another surprise: This generation is more smitten with making partner than going in-house. "There's been a shift, and they understand there's more stability with firms," says Ru Bhatt, an MLA managing director who co-authored the report. "They feel better informed about firms," adds Bhatt, noting that law firm compensation has been steadily rising.

If so many are gunning for partnership, are they truly serious about making work/life balance a priority? "They feel they should have it all," says Fiovel. But that doesn't necessarily mean they'll work less hard; they just don't want to do it at the office. "They've used technology their whole lives, and they feel they can be accessible without being tied to desk."

And what's all this stuff about millennials not caring about the brand name? All things being equal, does anyone seriously believe that someone would forsake Cravath to go to a no-name firm in Burlington, Vermont just because the latter gives off better vibes?

"Well, I think they're still thinking about the Am Law 200 firms," says Fivel. "I don't think they're planning on going so far down the chain."

Indeed, there's little indication that millennials are more idealistic or principled. For all the talk about work/life balance, "commitment to progressive family-friendly policies" only garnered a 5.37 score out of 10 from respondents in terms of importance. That's also the same score for "commitment to corporate social responsibility." And when it comes to diversity, more partners (82.5 percent) than associates (72.08 percent) rated it as a high priority.

(Interesting side note: 60 percent of respondents in survey agree that "U.S. law firm culture is inherently sexist." Left unsaid: What will this group do once it is in power.)

As much as "culture" ranks high on associates' list of priorities, millennials care little whether their clients share their cultural outlook. (To all you firms representing Donald Trump or his family, no worries.) "You hear about how associates won't work for firms that represent Big Tobacco, but that's not what we saw," says Bhatt. "They don't expect clients to share their values."

In other words, Big Law shouldn't worry so much about pleasing millennials. They're not plotting any revolution. They're pragmatic and ambitious—a combination that should keep billables going up and up.

So here's the plan: Don't shell out big bucks for programs they don't care about. Just give them a semblance of autonomy (like letting them work where they want) and whisper the prospect of partnership in their ears. Chances are, they'll bust their buns. Just like they've always done.

vchen@alm.com

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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