Millennial lawyers say business model broken

New survey shows millennial lawyers aspire to partnership despite being critical of law firm culture, with women being more critical than men.


A new US study, “New Expectations, Evolving Beliefs and Shifting Career Goals,” conducted by Major, Lindsey & Africa in conjunction with Above the Law showed that 40 per cent of millennial lawyers view partnership as their long-term career goal. That number is far higher than that of any alternative career path.

Broken business model

Millennials’ interest in becoming partner comes despite the belief that partnership is much less desirable than it was a generation ago and that the law firm business model itself is fundamentally broken. The survey polled more than 1,200 Above the Law readers from US law firms. “There’s no question that this generation operates differently than their predecessors, and the law firms that are best situated for future growth are the ones that are open to changing the status quo,” said Ru Bhatt, managing director in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Associate Practice Group. “Law firms need to work with millennials to address their concerns or otherwise risk putting themselves at a disadvantage for attracting talent in a highly competitive market.” The survey also reveals key differences in the experiences of male and female attorneys. When asked how long they would like to work at their current firm, 33 per cent of male respondents said they want to make partner at their current firm, compared to 26 per cent of female respondents. Meanwhile, after partnership, men are more likely to see themselves as in-house counsel in 10 years, whereas women aspire to go into non-profit and government work.

Gender difference

The difference between the perspectives of men and women are most visibly pronounced on issues such as sexism in the workplace and the gender pay gap. 45 per cent of women strongly agreed that law firm culture is sexist, compared to just 14 per cent of men. Meanwhile 56 per cent of women, and only 18 per cent of men, strongly agreed that there is a gender pay gap. Women were also more likely to prioritize diversity and inclusion: 63 per cent of women strongly agree that a diverse and inclusive workforce should be a priority compared to 37 per cent of men. Women across the board were more critical of law firm culture, compensation structure, and business model. “It’s clear that men and women have different priorities, which suggests that there may be internal friction and growing pains as firms continue to evolve,” said Michelle Fivel, a partner in the associate practice group of Major, Lindsey & Africa. “Balancing their unique interests and concerns will need to be top of mind for law firm management as the field continues to grow more diverse.”Additional key findings include work-life balance remains the top priority, informal mentorships are more meaningful than formal ones, firms should consider how to increase loyalty, and millennials are optimistic about the future. The full survey is available here.

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