Law firms are changing. The future of the profession is in flux as newer generations and Millennials move into the workplace.
In order to stay relevant in this dynamic atmosphere, firms need to teach incoming associates and new partners the business of running a law firm, foster loyalty, offer flexibility and connect to Millennials.
When thinking about law, business operations do not necessarily come to mind. However, business skills are vital for running a law firm. Being a lawyer is an entrepreneurial endeavor, said Lauren Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership and author of “You Raised Us – Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams.”
Today, being an entrepreneur is part and parcel with being a successful lawyer. An ideal law firm focuses on talent management, training, growth and development, transparency in the workplace and motivation for employees, Rikleen said. Firms must invoke a sense of camaraderie among associates and partners.
In January, Fennemore Craig launched its Director’s School for all newly promoted partners. It is a year-long program that focuses on business skills, teaching law firm management and connecting Millennials to more senior team members.
“You have to look at a law firm functioning like a business as opposed to coming to work and practicing law as an attorney,” said A. Joseph Chandler, a shareholder and attorney at Fennemore Craig in Phoenix. Chandler is one of four key directors in charge of the program.
One of the goals is to make training effective and meaningful for young partners, and to integrate newly promoted partners as owners and operators of the firm, Chandler said.
The program also aims to help new partners build a mentor and mentee relationship. “We are reaching down and across,” Chandler said. “The senior partners are building relationships with Millennials.”
The law practice would benefit by making sure that each partner has the ability to understand, think and work like a business owner, Chandler said. “It is looking at the long-term success of the firm by making sure that we have long range goals for the success and development of our partners.”
You have to approach operating a law firm as you would any business, said Alison Christian, co-founder of the Ladder Down Program and shareholder at Christian, Dichter and Sluga. “It’s critical to understand the business operation of a law firm, no matter what your level is within that firm.”
Christian’s Ladder Down helps accomplish that goal. The year-long program presents monthly sessions dedicated to the three big areas of concern in the legal profession: leadership, business development, and rainmaking
New partners should not be the only ones learning business skills, experts said. It is important for associates to understand the practice and know how to think like a future owner.
“Law schools should be developing courses to help law students become more practice ready,” said Rikleen. And that encompasses the business side of practicing law.
Law schools are still teaching “Black Letter Law,” said Laurie Hodgson, director for professional development at Arizona Summit Law School. “We are always changing, always evolving, yet we haven’t changed the way law schools operate since the 1860s.”
In the spring of 2013, Arizona Summit Law School started an annual “Business of Law” seminar for attorneys who want to start their own firm or be successful within a firm.
Law schools need to shift their curriculum in order to keep up with the evolving profession, which is transforming as Millennials and technology take the forefront.
Understanding the business of law is part of a larger goal – the long-term success of the law profession.
There is a generational gap between seasoned and incoming attorneys. Millennials who enter the workplace want to have meaning and purpose, said Elizabeth Fitch, co-founder of the Ladder Down program and founding member of Righi Law Group.
Law firms today need to have a vision, Fitch said. New lawyers are “not given the big picture, they’re not shown the story. They’re not connecting what their daily grind is to the overall success and vision for the law firm.”
According to Fitch, Millennials need to have a positive relationship with the directors of a firm. They will stay at the company if they connect to their team and share common values.
It is important to have lawyers who care about the firm and its future, said Leah Freed, managing shareholder at Ogletree Deakins’ Phoenix office. In order to maintain a strong law firm, you must have strong lawyers who care enough to spend time and develop new associates.
With guidance and training, a firm will be able to integrate the newer generations into the company’s culture, Rikleen said. All partners need to embrace their new role as leaders and visionaries.
“Lawyers by nature are more resistant to change,” said Freed. Which means law firms are slower at progressing and adopting new technologies.
However, through the use of technology, law firms are striving to be more efficient and reduce overhead, Freed said.
Technology allows attorneys to connect to their clients and keep in touch throughout the day, which in turn provides flexibility within a firm.
Being able to integrate work and life is vital for newer generations. They want to have an active career while being present and involved with their family, Rikleen said. Which means flexibility is key.
In the future, Freed said she thinks there will be more opportunities for lawyers to contract or do part-time work, providing flexibility to the lawyers and the firm.
Today, males and females share in family responsibilities, so work-life balance is necessary for both.
Ten years ago, women were grappling with that balance, learning how to draw boundaries and prioritize, said Marianne Trost, The Women Lawyer Coach. However, it is no longer a gender issue, but a generational issue.
Millennials are not going to tolerate the current structure, Fitch said. Their values are going to start putting “pressure on law firm systems and it’s going to force a positive change.”
Retaining Millennials is key to ensuring the future of the law profession. Law firms are beginning to recognize that generational differences are present. However, the profession as a whole is far from addressing these new challenges, Rikleen said.
The law profession is undergoing constant change as technology is utilized and newer generations enter the firms and move up the ranks.
“What we see today is going to be a shadow of what’s to come,” Hodgson said. Though the jury is still out on what that means for the future of the law profession.