Gen Z lawyers. Is your law firm ready and why you should care

The opportunity: Gen Z lawyers and legal design

Gen Z generally refers to people born from 1995 and beyond, the first fully digital era. They’ve got big expectations and this has implications for lawyers and the legal profession. Gen Z lawyers are the lawyers who will build and drive your firm forward. There’s no other talent pool to draw on because we’re all getting older and if we don’t make room, what will happen to the legal profession?

It’s time for a drastic change in the way we do law, whether we like it or not. Gen Z is ready to transform the law and they expect us (the older generation of lawyers) to make it possible.

Agile law firms and managers understand that workplace culture is an evolutionary process and firms that respond to change will attract and retain Gen Z lawyers (and attract and retain Gen Z clients).

And legal design provides the toolkit for transition.

Who is Gen Z?

Deloitte’s report on Understanding Generation Z in the workplace describes Gen Z as pragmatic realists with a vision for a better world for everyone.

Pragmatic people who expect action

Gen Z is deeply committed to the environment, sustainability and ethics and expects employers to demonstrate their commitment through action and impact.

Diversity is non-negotiable

Diversity is not a cause and DEI (diversity, equality and inclusion) is fundamental. Diversity is broad and covers a lot: Identity, orientation, gender and race and it’s not posting rainbow flags to support the pride movement once a year. 

Gen Z’s don’t ask for approval. They will design a future and a workplace where they can be whoever they want to be and it’s up to us to accommodate this shift in order to work with them.

Digital natives

Gen Z doesn’t know the world without technology. They adopt new technology quickly and likely know 10 better alternatives to your suggestion.

Innovative

Gen Z is innovative, they think outside the box and they value design and creative skills. They want their voice heard and participate in the conversation. They have new ideas and they’re not afraid to promote them. 

What’s beautiful though is Gen Z values dialogue over confrontation, says McKinsey’s report. They can hold space for different truths whereas the previous generations have had a hard time accepting diverse points of view. 

This is how you change the world, through dialogue rather than a fistfight  (especially if it’s about who’s right and who’s wrong in your beliefs and values).

Gen Z lawyers are the future of law

If you look at these characteristics and think about your own workplace, your own law firm or the legal team you’re currently working in, how well do you think you’re equipped to welcome this new generation?

If you say that you’re not prepared, you’re not alone. Law firms are facing huge problems with their recruitment of young lawyers. Or more specifically, keeping the young talent in house. Turnover rates in law firms are dangerously high. 

It appears law firm leadership is failing to adapt to the needs and values of Gen Z and Gen Z is voting with their feet. 

And it goes even deeper than that. Law firm leadership doesn’t understand Gen Z and what they want out of work, how they want to do the work, and what kind of lawyers they want to be. This mismatch leads to huge turnover rates and struggling firms.

Will you survive without lawyers to do the work?

What will you do if you have no lawyers to do the lawyer work? Gen Z are you in 10 or 20 years. It’s not like they are going to grow out of their characteristics and the paradigm shift they are bringing to the table. It’s us employers and leaders who need to adapt.

The studies say that Gen Z lawyers leave the firm after they have paid their student loans. After they have satisfied their most urgent need for financial security and gained some experience. They go on to in-house, NGOs and start-ups. Or start their own practice. They go anywhere they can manifest their values and ways of working.

Sure you can always hire new associates to replace the old ones, but in the long run, it is not sustainable investing in new employees all the time.

It’s not all about money

A fat paycheck doesn’t satisfy Gen Z. Offering financial incentives and a shortcut to partnership doesn’t work for a new generation that values other things over money, glamor and prestige. 

Free time, mental health, and opportunities to learn and make a difference are more important. Young lawyers are looking at alternative legal professions to satisfy these needs. Traditional law firms are losing their shine.

The solution for law firms and Gen Z

It’s not throwing more money at people. The entire industry needs a redesign rather than a tweak for Gen Z. It’s time to design law: Employee experience, business model, partnership model, service delivery, communication, leadership, and culture. All of it.

“The solution is to break the mold and redesign a law firm where Gen Z actually wants to work.”

Gen Z’s are your future clients

Not just your future employees, Generation Z is the future clientele of your law firm. 

So it’s not just young lawyers demanding changes in the workplace, it’s the clients demanding changes to the way you serve them. Gen Z does not want to be serviced by the current industry standard: Slow, analogue, expensive, and complex.

What does it mean for you?

How will you satisfy Gen Z’s expectations of technology, innovation and creativity? What about sustainability and diversity?

Your Gen Z clients will need Gen Z lawyers to serve them. You don’t speak the same language or use the same tools or channels as they do. 

To have a viable succession plan for the future, you’ll need the Gen Z’s onboard.

The Gen Z link to legal design thinking

Gen Z is the people who will change the business model and the culture in the law firms to attract more Gen Z. You need their ideas, their perspective and their voice to future-proof your business. 

It’s the same thing as designing client experience or new client-centric services, you need to start with the client or in the case of employees, you need to start with the employees and get them involved in the process. You can’t assume things on their behalf and hope for the best.

Many firms possibly think they’re doing a lot to attract Gen Z. But the adaptation is from the law firms or partners’ perspective and what they think is sufficient for the next generation.

Here’s where legal design thinking comes to play

By adopting legal design thinking principles, you can make Gen Z part of your firm and part of the development process of redesigning the practices and models. Young lawyers feel involved and valued in the decision-making process and you get the understanding and ideas to push the change going.

Another link between Gen Z and legal design thinking is that Gen Z sees the value and wants to use legal design thinking in their legal work. They don’t need any convincing. 

In fact, Gen Z goes as far as saying that legal design thinking is a must-have skill set to stay relevant in the future of law. For them it’s not a question of whether or not you should be interested, it’s a matter of how to get started. And which employer makes that possible.

I did a set of interviews with Gen Z lawyers when I was designing the legal design workshops for Lawyers Design School. It startled me how ready and conscious they were about legal design. All of them had understanding and also an appetite to learn and adopt legal design tools in their everyday work. 

Sadly, none of them was very confident that their current employers were willing to support their learning or provide them with the learning opportunities in legal design through work.

TIP: This is your opportunity to stand out. Offer opportunities to learn and adopt legal design thinking for your lawyers. 

It’s a golden opportunity to update your succession plan and future-proof your law firm.

A confronting read, right? It’s reality though. Gen Z is the future of law and the forces of change will not bypass lawyers. How do you feel about it?

What will your firm look like in 10 years? Grab a coffee and sit with it for a little while.

We’re ready to help you if you want to explore legal design and Gen Z. Come and visit us at lawyersdesignschool.com.

Coffee with Hannele Korhonen: Happy customers & happy lawyers. Episode 18.

You’ve just read a summary of my LinkedIn Live. I provide these sessions each week for law firm owners who are looking for actionable advice and tips on how to get more happy clients and make themselves happy lawyers with the help of legal design thinking. 

If you’ve read something that interests you please join me next week. 

 You can catch a replay of episode 18 here

Coffee with Hannele Korhonen: happy customers and happy lawyers. Episode 18. Gen Z & legal design.

Want to chat about it?

Is Gen Z mystifying to you? Maybe a little intimidating? Doesn’t need to be. In fact, by meeting them where they are, you’re meeting your customers where they want you to be. Is there a better reason to position yourself as a pioneer, and future proof your business? I think it’s exciting. 

Feel free to DM any questions or join me on LinkedIn every Wednesday at 8 am ET where you can ask me about legal design and growing your law firm. 

Follow me at  @lawyersdesignschool and get more practical tips on building a thriving law firm, how to find new clients and become a happy boutique law firm owner.

Prefer email? Drop me an email at [email protected] And while you’re here, take a peek at the Lawyers Design School and check out other ways to use legal design thinking to grow your law firm and thrive in your business.

Watch all the Happy customer and happy lawyers episodes.

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