By Patrick Connelly, originally published in Buffalo Law Journal, Buffalo Business First on Oct 1, 2018, 9:12am.

Millennials shake up legal field

Millennials focused on finding a work-life balance have changed the legal profession.

“It’s a new workforce and they expect different things,” said Peter Marlette, partner at Barclay Damon LLP and managing director of the Buffalo office. “We try to anticipate how we can make the experience better.”

A sampling of top-level partners in area law firms have seen offices transform in recent years, with changes designed to attract and retain younger associates.

“I think that over time (they are) going to flip the legal profession on its head,” said Joseph Hanna, partner at Goldberg Segalla.

By offering younger employees flexibility from fixed schedules and perks such as a casual working environment, paid child care, early-on courtroom experience and, yes, even snacks, firms have made changes to stay competitive.

“From the baby boomers to Gen X (and now) to millennials, they hear and speak different things,” said Kevin Cross, managing partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP. “More than anybody, (millennials are) looking for a good balance in both their personal and their work lives.”

Strong mentoring programs are important, too, said Kevin Hogan, managing partner at Phillips Lytle LLP.

“Mentoring is a huge point of emphasis and leans toward professional development,” he said. “Young attorneys have probably forever thirsted for training on how to succeed. I get the feeling that millennials now seek it more than ever before.”

Millennials were born between 1982 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Barclay Damon attorneys Megan Bahas, a 2012 graduate of University at Buffalo School of Law, and Elizabeth Holmes, a 2010 graduate, have seen change in the profession.

“(Things have) definitely come a long way,” said Holmes, an associate who focuses on commercial litigation, land use and zoning and white collar law. “I think it’s much different than what it was 10 to 20 years ago.”

A 2017 study by Thomson Reuters found that aside from an increase in salary or promotion, millennials prioritize benefits, the work-life balance and a more casual work environment.

Returning to work recently after maternity leave that was mostly paid time off, Bahas is easing her way back into the job.

“(Within a few days I) already had a partner check in with me to see if I’m doing OK in terms of the workload,“ said Bahas, who focuses on labor and employment and health care and human services.

That high level of interest in the workforce is valuable to millennials, Hanna said.

“They don’t necessarily care about money or about becoming partner … They don’t care about grinding (extra work) out on a Saturday or Sunday. They focus on quality of life,” he said.

Bahas and Holmes are part of the “Next Generation” group that Barclay Damon started in 2017. The group examines issues and trends, determines what associates need or want, evaluates options and then proposes changes to the management team, Bahas said.

Thanks to the group, the firm started a policy to allow associates to work from home up to two days a week.

“We wanted to make things as productive and as collaborative as we could,” Marlette said. “We have always been open to alternative working arrangements.”

Approximately 20 of the 75 younger attorneys on staff take advantage of the ability to work remotely.

The firm also implemented a child-care reimbursement policy and changed the method in which employees are evaluated for pay increases to an accomplishment-based system with tiers. Associates advance through the ranks when they meet certain criteria, regardless of how long they have been with the firm, Marlette said.
 
According to the Thomson Reuters study, one-half of millennial attorneys plan to stay with their current employer while 28 percent would consider changing firms for a more favorable working environment.

“We want to reward our stars and we thought this was the best way to do this,” Marlette said.

A study by the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University in Massachusetts found that 69 percent of millennials are likely to recommend their employer to others if it offers flexibility and/or paid parental leave, something that the large firms contacted for this story all offered. The study said 83 percent woyld be more likely to join the company and 86 percent said they’d be less likely to quit.

At 39, Hanna said he has “seen the progression” of millennials in invoking change and he’s watched the push for change that came with advancements in technology.

For established attorneys, it can be difficult to empathize with millennials because “they’re not used to that,” Hanna said, and it’s “not what they did.” He leads Golberg & Segalla’s development and leadership committee for associates and helps bring new ideas to management that will make the firm more attractive to younger professionals.

At Lippes Mathias, Cross said firm leaders are “always asking a question: ‘Do you have an app for that?’ ” to make something run more efficiently. Indeed, one that’s popular among millennials is the time entry app the firm uses to log billable hours via a smartphone, he said.

“They want the flexibility to be able to do things on the run and when they’re going from here to there,” he said.

According to Thomson Reuters, many firms expect millennials to drive more tech changes: 74 percent of firms surveyed look for millennials to suggest ideas for advancements.

Mentoring programs help make millennials more comfortable in the workplace and turn them into leaders sooner, Hogan said. At Phillips Lytle, all associates are assigned mentors and run through a written plan. Hogan meets with associates for lunch to talk about how they are progressing and ask what pain points they might have.

“Everyone’s goal here should be that they actually have multiple mentors,” Hogan said, adding that secretaries and paralegals are invited to offer a guiding hand, as well. “Everybody you interact with is a potential mentor.”
 
Associates at Barclay Damon are part of a shadowing program where Marlette said they can attend depositions and more to receive credit toward their yearly hours.

“You’re not enhancing their career by locking them in an office all day long,” he said.

The program helps associates see the impact of what they’re working on for a client. With the firm’s pro bono program, he said associates gain more “real-time experience.”

“A lot of younger attorneys coming out of school have spent the past seven or eight years with their heads buried in books,” Cross said. “Sometimes we need to really help them to get connected. … We work hard to give them exposure in the (legal) community (outside the office).”

Lippes Mathias makes mentorship “less formal,” he said, by having new associates develop relationships on their own.

“We have found that most people want a mentor but they want it to be a little more fluid,” Cross said.

Millennials want their law firm to be transparent, the Thomson Reuters study said, while 70 percent of young attorneys want in on decision-making processes.

Marlette said Barclay Damon is “very open with finances in how the business is doing” to keep millennials informed. “It’s just enhanced communication,” he said.

Hogan said Phillips Lytle also is transparent in sharing what’s going on in client relationships.

“This isn’t unique to any particular area of the law; rather, it’s more how you can become a more effective businessperson,” he said.

Cross said the changes Lippes Mathias made in terms of remote-work options and making the company culture more social seem to resonate with millennials.

“I think that generally they are looking for conveniences and to make their lives easier,” he said. “They are balancing a lot.”

Company culture is the “top priority” at Goldberg Segalla, Hanna said. The office environment is laidback and the lack of a dress code helps everyone relax more. Working from home more than being in the office is fine, too, he said.

“As long as the work is done, as long as the quality of work (remains consistent), you can work from the moon,” Hanna said.
 
Goldberg Segalla nixed its billable hours requirement to give younger attorneys some breathing room.

“If you can make it a more casual environment, that makes it a good place to work,” Cross said.

Social networking such as happy hours and monthly breakfast events are “a big hit,” he said. The firm also invites food trucks to the office.

“I think that generation likes things a little more casual,” he said.