The term “millennials” refers to the demographic cohort born between the early 1980s until 2004. In this article we discuss what law firms are doing to attract these lawyers and what they are looking for from their careers.


In popular culture, the term “millennials” has sometimes been a term used in a negative light – hence the reluctance of people to categorise themselves as such. Entitled, seeking praise, lazy, uncommitted – these are many of the misconceptions about this group, which are largely created by a misunderstanding between different generations.

Millennials were born during the technological revolution and were the first generation to grow up with the internet at their fingertips. Whilst their predecessors had computers, millennials now have laptops, smartphones, iPads etc. (many also refer to this generation as the ‘Apple generation’), allowing them to work and be connected to their friends and family whenever and wherever.

This has translated to a feeling and desire that they should have more flexibility in their work: why should they be chained to a desk when work could be done from home? Millennials are the first generation to successfully combine a career with having a family and their other personal interests and goals, rather than having to pursue one over the other. The millennial mind-set is that embracing technology advancement in the workplace should enable them to have a better work/life balance.

It is not surprising then that we are now seeing Magic Circle and other leading firms introducing flexible working to their lawyers (e.g. A&O led the way in 2015 with the rolling out of their iflex programme and Herbert Smith following shortly after with their one home-working day per week). Perhaps a firm such as Mishcon de Reya’s impressively high retention rate can be explained (at least in part) by the trust they put in their employees? The firm is widely known to be one of the most flexible in terms of working arrangements. This is something millennials’ parents would not have dreamt of considering as an option: what worked 20 years ago does not necessarily work now.

2016 saw the Cravath salary war hit the London market: which US firm would offer the highest NQ salary? This saw US firms raise their NQ salaries by more than £20,000 and subsequently caused a ripple effect across the market causing other UK firms to seriously consider their remuneration scales in order to retain their junior lawyers on qualification (and beyond).

However, whilst wages are an important factor, they are just one of a number of factors at the forefront of these millennial lawyers’ minds. Work/life balance (as discussed above), culture, appraisal systems, progression, the firm’s reputation, the firm’s impact on society (charity work, pro bono clients, ethics, diversity, career development etc.) are all big topics of discussion when considering the best fit for them in terms of the type of firm they want to carve out their career with. Salary remains important; however they have other interests and concerns which also need to be met. They want to know that their work matters and, most importantly, that their employers trust them.

The relationship between partners and associates has also evolved over recent years. They are closer and interact more, not because millennials do not respect hierarchy, more because they seek more interaction and transparency with their employers in order to have more control over their career development. They are not afraid to ask for feedback and they are on the constant lookout for innovation and improvement in their lives and in their work

Unlike their predecessors, millennials will not be hesitant to move to another firm if they do not see a clear progression path within their current firm. Career options are constantly developing: distinguished career paths for PSLs, of counsel, legal directorship, alternative ‘consultant’ roles, senior in-house positions etc. are all options that this generation of lawyer is open to consider. Unsurprisingly, moving in-house is not only a consideration for senior associates any more; increasing numbers of junior lawyers are viewing this as an appealing career path at an earlier stage.

So what do all of these changes mean for law firms in the future? It is clear that firms are becoming increasingly focused on how to retain this millennial generation, so it will be interesting to see how their ideas for retaining talent evolve, e.g. secondments into Know-How, other practice areas or even a stint as a partner for more senior associates.

As already discussed we have seen an increase in agile /flexible working and home working, particularly for smaller firms where profitability drives cause them to evaluate their office space more closely. The interview process itself is evolving as well; informal coffees, drinks or even lunches – law firms are trying to make it more personal. They understand the millennial’s need for interaction and, instead of just asking the candidate to sell themselves to the firm, they are increasingly humanising these processes, slowly adapting themselves to a changing society

The role of the recruiter remains vitally important in order to bridge the gap between what the law firm needs and what the millennial wants, something that technology is yet to achieve.

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