Millennial development important as boomers exit legal departments

The millennnials are coming to a legal department near you, but are you ready for what they want or can contribute to your succession plan?

According to Forbes, in the next decade, 75 per cent of the workforce will be made up of millennials and each day 10,000 baby boomers in the U.S. retire. But ,what is happening internally in legal departments and law firms to try and plan for how this demographic change is going to affect the way legal services are delivered?

“The people you are providing legal services to are changing,” said Bernadette Bulacan, director, market development at Thomson Reuters, speaking at the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium second annual conference last week. “We need to think about how we will need to communicate to those business partners who are changing.”

Bulacan’s talk covered the perceptions and expectations around the millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 1997) and the need for thoughtful succession planning.

In a report called “Legal Department 2025 — The Generational Shift in Legal Departments: Working with Millennials and Avoiding Baby Boomer Brain Drain”, Thomson Reuters surveyed legal departments about the changing demographics. The survey represented three generations: baby boomers, gen-Xers and millennials. It identified current perceptions of millennial corporate counsel and revealed that legal departments are unprepared for the generational shift taking place as baby boomers retire and more millennials join the workforce.

For the most part, the corporate counsel who answered the survey reported they’re not doing anything to prepare for this generational shift. Only 26 per cent of legal departments have a succession plan in place, and the vast majority of legal departments do not have a formal mentoring program; only six per cent reported having such a program in place. In some cases, that may be attributed to the fact that many legal departments are small with less than five lawyers and it is not perceived to be an immediate concern.

Millennial traits are said to include being tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, creative, collaborative and they value diversity. They are also often perceived to be too candid, have a sense of entitlement and considered “job hoppers.” However, the gen-Xers were also criticized for being job hoppers; even baby boomers changed jobs frequently, but they did so mostly between the ages of 18 and 24.

“I don’t think they are job hoppers or disloyal or craving praise,” said Bulacan. “But I think it’s a good thing to put mentorships and succession management programs in place to handle things such as knowledge management and building skillsets for the future.”

While legal departments need the right technology and processes to address the evolution of the way legal services will be delivered, they also need a strategic plan to include having the right people in place to support future needs.

“[Amazon’s intelligent assistant] Alexa may eliminate your need for particular people. You may approach technology differently because you’re working with more digital natives,” she said.

The survey found that the top perceptions of millennial lawyers are that:

• 74 per cent of millennials know they will bring tech advancements faster than other generations
• 70 per cent want a high level of involvement in decision-making of legal department
• 63 per cent anticipate being promoted within the legal department
• 63 per cent said they have strong craving for work/life balance
• 59 per cent prefer to work for organizations that align with their values and morals

“These are things operations professionals and general counsel need to think about, particularly if a certain group in a department is craving advancement,” she said.

“When you look at your own department, what do you think is most attractive to this new generation coming in? What is your department doing that is attractive in terms of recruiting or retaining millennials?”

But shouldn’t departments be doing succession planning from top to bottom on a periodic and regular basis? Yes, says Bulacan.

“If this conversation about millennials gives us the opportunity to do this, then we need to take advantage of it and bust some of the myths,” she said.

Bulacan said it’s important for in-house departments to not just rely on annual performance evaluations but 360 evaluations to identifying future leaders and to look for leadership skills and development opportunities.

Reverse mentoring can also be valuable in that it facilitates exchange of information between millennials and boomers who can share skills with each other in a variety of ways such as sharing on application of technology as well as knowledge transfer.

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