Rethinking the Law Firm for The Millennial Generation

July 6, 2011

10:00 am

Hello white shoe law firm!  Meet the pants-around-the-knees, skateboarding, slacker Millennial Generation.  How you going to keep them down on the farm now that they’ve seen Paree? You know they aren’t making worker bees like they use to.

Old school law firms historically grew on the backs of associates willing to kick, scratch, and bite their way up the partnership ladder.  Impossibly long hours, working through holidays, sacrificing social life and family….Boomers who defined themselves by their vocation were willing to put life to the side while advancing their careers.  The X’s and Millennials aren’t as quick to choose career over life after witnessing the affects of corporate disloyalty and lay-offs on their parents.

New age firms that place a high-value on attorney work-life balance and alternative billing methods, like subscriptions services, are challenging the old model of cherry-paneled walls, marble floors, Persian rugs, and burned out associates.  New firms are popping up in the blue ocean space of the a new law firm model.  Corporate firms like Clarity Law and Virtual Law Partners and specialty firms like Intellectual Property (IP)-focused Cloudigy Law are competing with the traditional tech focused powerhouse firms like Cooley, Pillsbury, Holland & Knight. This new disruptive wrinkle in law firm dynamics can be described by the following Blue Ocean Strategy strategy canvas:

Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas

There appears to be a trend of accomplished barristers choosing work-life balance over the partnership track.  This new generation of attorneys are motivated by the principles of Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive” (see: Daniel Pink’s  video on motivation). The wealth and riches promised by partnership are not as important as Pink’s 3 motivational pillars Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery.  Many professionals are choosing sane, $250K, lifestyle-friendly careers over a $800K, life-excluding, partnership treadmill.

Now this is not to say that one type of firm better serves a client than the other.   If you are startup in DC, you couldn’t find a better firm than Cooley if you are seeking a) introductions to top venture capitalists, b) coaching on raising capital, c) corporate formation, and d) intellectual property protection. Pillsbury, Wilson Sonsini, Holland and Knight can all do the same.

Yet for pure legal work, are the traditional firms superior to the new age firms?  Are these lifestyle-friendly new firms the law firm model of the future? Can the traditional firms continue to attract the brightest graduates from the best schools and expect them to put their lives on hold while they fund senior partner auto leases and $20K office rugs?

Time will tell.

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Glen Hellman (@glehel), is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and works for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist. He is the Chief Entrepreneureator at Driven Forward LLC, frequently muses on his blog, Forward Thinking, and works with entrepreneurs to help them figure out what to do and get them to do it.

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