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Gen X, Gen Y and the Legal Profession--Incompatible?

Picv19st51It's been a while since I posted about what I now like to refer to as "legal elasticity."   But, it's been on my mind quite a bit lately, in large part because I was recently invited to join the New York State Bar Association's "Gender Equity Commission" and am co-chair of the "Family and Careers Committee" of the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys.

Not surprisingly, my position regarding the legal profession and its antiquated views of work/life balance have not changed.  As far as I'm concerned, legal employers are in for a rude awakening now that Gen Y has entered the workforce.  Both the men and women of this generation that just graduated from law school last spring are more than willing to work for less money in exchange for a better work life balance. 

In other words, the legal field had better begin to think outside the box and allow more elasticity in work arrangements or pay the price.  If legal employers continue to essentially ignore the demands of Gen X, and now Gen Y, employees, it will soon affect the bottom line.  The rubber band will snap back and then they'll see elasticity in action.

A recent study by Hildebrandt International regarding associate retention supports my theory.  The executive summary of the study can be found here

This study sets forth four different types of associates:

  • Career Practitioners Approximately a quarter of associates have “traditional” aspirations to build a career in professional practice and to develop into partners. They are relatively highly satisfied, and are willing to sacrifice their personal life for professional advancement.
  • Flexibility Seekers About a quarter of associates demonstrate a particularly strong interest in flexible hours and alternative career tracks. They are not any more likely to be in a caring role (looking after children or others) but they do wish to reduce hours and pay. Overall this group is the least satisfied and few wish to become partners.
  • Called Lawyers Slightly less than a quarter of associates can be identified by a love of the law and their interest in pursuing careers in public service or education. Disinterest in partnership does not mean that they do not wish to contribute to the firm and to be involved in management, but they are only reasonably satisfied and firms do not appear to be meeting their needs particularly well at present.
  • Willing Workers Just over a quarter of lawyers identify themselves through a willingness to be managed and their relatively high satisfaction. They do not demonstrate a particular passion for the law, nor a willingness to sacrifice personal life for advancement.

From the summary:

Performance is relatively similar across all groups. Current approaches to associate development and retention seem to be particularly effective at meeting the needs of the Career Practitioners, but they are failing to provide equivalent satisfaction to the other groups. Many firms are therefore only appealing strongly to about a quarter of the associate population, and the ability for firms to address themselves to the other groups will be key to winning the “war for talent”...

The changing demographics of the legal profession make the need to appeal to female associates a business priority rather than a diversity issue. Firms need to address the factors identified in order to improve satisfaction and encourage a larger proportion of female associates to pursue a career as a partner.

The report offers this conclusion:

Associates are not the unhappy collection of unfulfilled employees portrayed in the media. As a group, they are engaged, interested, and happy with their compensation. Very few show any interest in leaving the profession. On the other hand, only a small proportion aspires to partnership. Many are seeking alternatives. Some of this relates to the wide and varied aspirations of young lawyers and some of it to the unattractiveness of private practice to significant segments of the population.

(Emphasis happily added)

Oh snap!  Legal employers sit up and take notice.  If you don't, trust me--you'll regret it.

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