The Great Resignation and associate shortage has drawn headlines for some time now. While COVID was the catalyst, this could have been predicted long before the global pandemic. As associates across the country are quitting their jobs, partners around the world are scrambling to keep order and maintain the status quo.
While partners are accustomed to having money be the panacea to all employment challenges, factors such as 2200+ billable workloads, proper mentoring and a compelling future that’s outlined through a transparent guidepost to partnership, are more important to younger attorneys.
Baby boomers and Gen X grew up believing that if you work hard and apply yourself, you can succeed in the profession of law and make an incredible income. Millennials want meaningful lives, healthy relationships and a compelling future. They also want to work at an organization that contributes to the world around them.
Rather than examine the psychology at the root of the problem, AmLaws are throwing salaries at associates that were heretofore only seen in the partner ranks. It’s not working. This demonstrates that salary (alone) is not the reason associates are leaving their jobs.
Lifestyle, flexibility, and a modern business model that replaces micromanagement with real mentoring are more important to today’s associates, than compensation alone.
I spoke with an associate at a top 20 AmLaw firm who had this to say on that matter:
“In my experience, my generation does not want to be tied to a desk at all times. We are willing to work hard but prefer to have the freedom to work remotely when possible. When a firm allows a hybrid experience, it shows that the firm trusts the associate and their discretion. I have the opportunity to do work tasks from home, which eliminates the stress of a commute and allows me to spend more time with family. This improves my mental health and energizes me to excel at my tasks.”
“The value of mentorship cannot be understated. The connection between a mentor and mentee helps an associate effectively integrate into a firm. Such effective integration leads to feelings of belonging that result in an associate staying with a firm long-term.”
Tyra Bell-Holland is the CEO of Ava Rose Agency, a renowned Public Relations agency that handles clients across the USA and around the globe. She spoke about offering flexibility:
“My company is virtual and most of my employees are millennials. Because of this, I felt it was important that my team works from wherever they felt the most inspired and creative. However, I was surprised by how many enjoy coming into the office on a fairly regular basis. So we offer both. The key is to constantly innovate and adapt to the market.”
Chris Wilson, the partner who oversees the remote-attorney program at Taylor English Duma, concurs with Ms. Bell-Holland:
“Times are definitely different today. Firms need to be more flexible with their attorneys than they have in the past. In my opinion, law firms should embrace the idea of allowing associates to work wherever they want, as long as they are getting solid training and mentoring.”
The pandemic has shown us that attorneys can clearly handle their responsibilities without traveling to a skyscraper every single day. Hybrid platforms work. Having the ability to operate from home if you’re not needed in office supersedes an extra annual bonus to some associates.
The most oft-overlooked factor that baby boomers dismiss, is the perceived avarice of partners. While companies like Subaru use Cause-Marketing to inform young buyers that every car purchased, will result in a greener planet, law firms are overwhelmingly concerned with only three things: profits, profits and more profits. Millennials no longer define success by a meaningless and ego-driven race to have the highest profits per partner published in a magazine.
I spoke with John Shook, a founding member of the Nevada law firm Shook & Stone, who is insightful enough to realize the importance of this “soft skill” for law firm employers:
“When I started my career, connecting technologies like email, texting, and listservs were not a thing. Communication occurred by phone, face-to-face, fax, or snail mail. Now, employees expect a more collaborative environment with quicker and more frequent feedback. Millennials and post-millennials are much more in-tune with the broader world and thrive when they understand how the firm’s values match their values to impact the world positively.”
Shook astutely pointed out how the workplace should adapt to societal changes. Millennials are much more concerned about the environment and climate change, social justice and equity, and making a difference in the world, than their baby boomer predecessors (many of whom, ironically fought for the same things in the 1960s).
It has become clear that managing partners who are seeking to solve the problems created by the associate shortage need to think outside the compensation box. They need to examine whether their business model offers a modern platform, reasonable lifestyle, flexibility, real mentoring, a clearly defined path to partnership and finally, values that connect with the most important issues and concerns of the younger generations.