How can law firms tackle the generation gap?

Posted in Latest News on 21 May 2024

The workforce is changing. Shifts in the generational landscape of the legal profession mean there are challenges in the workforce that have never been seen before.  

With people retiring later and a whole new generation (Gen Z) starting to enter the workplace, it’s more important than ever for law firms, and even recruitment agencies like Douglas Scott, to understand how these shifts will affect the workforce. Recent research by LegalCheek has shed some light on what Gen Z is looking for in the workplace and how law firms might be able to help bridge the growing divides between members of the workforce.  

The research with 40 UK law firms found that one of the biggest challenges for junior lawyers entering the workplace is navigating several different generational perspectives. Currently, the workforce has four different defined generations: ‘baby boomers’, ‘generation X’, ‘millennials’ and ‘generation Z’. According to this study, these generations have different views on the workplace and management styles. Prior research has shown generation X (those between 44 and 59) are more likely to be interested in sticking with one firm and progressing through the ranks in a stable job environment. However, this recent research has revealed that Generation Z (those aged 27 and under) take a different view. They are more likely to focus on their career advancement, take development opportunities when offered, and seek out new experiences and challenges when presented. Therefore, there’s a gap in mindset, which could pose a problem for staff members looking for different things in their work. Management styles are also different: Gen X prefer a ‘hands-off’ approach and to be able to act independently on their own. However, Gen Z is more interested in working collaboratively and responds better to inclusive management styles. They also prefer more frequent check-ins and guidance from their superiors, in contrast to older workers who prefer to be left to get on with it.  

Focusing specifically on the needs of Gen Z, the report identified a lack of knowledge as the primary concern young lawyers might have. 31% of respondents acknowledged this as a concern for those entering the profession. The next most common concern was prioritising mental health, which 11% of surveyed identified as a key issue. Other top concerns were client care, meeting professional standards, managing workloads and legal knowledge gaps (all at 6%). However, law firms were finding ways to focus on continued professional development for their staff: all respondents confirmed that they offered these services to their junior staff. These services ranged from online seminars (50%) and day courses (33%) to conferences (6%) and mentorship schemes (6%). The critical areas of development firms wanted to focus on were time management, resilience, and business and commercial attributes. Interestingly, most firms were more interested in feedback from those who took the training rather than seeing the results in job performance (only 14% saw this as the primary consideration when evaluating the results of this development). It marks a change from years gone by, where this would have been seen as the only reason for and measure of a development programme’s success.  

Understanding the shifts in the workplace will take on a new importance as the workforce continues to change in line with what we’ve seen previously. Understanding that cross-generational differences need to be looked at and understood, as well as the challenges of generation Z, should be a key focus for law firms going forward. They will need to be aware of these things if they want to maintain a competitive edge in terms of attracting and retaining the best talent. 

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