A question that came to me after a webinar I led on April 14th warranted a longer and widely distributed answer. While the question was focused on law firms, I believe it applies to other types of firms of professionals and knowledge workers as well.
Q: What key changes do you think Gen Y/ Milleninals (same generation) will drive in terms of how law firms operate (e.g. changes to law firm structure and process, changes to hourly rate billing model)?
This is a juicy question to speculate about. My answer, admittedly, is a combination of realistic trendwatching, projection of typical Gen Y/Millennial traits, and a bit of wishful thinking. Here goes:
I think we will see influenced by the Gen Yers, more flexibility, more demand and existence of diversity and inclusion of all kinds and more representation of Gen Ys (and later generations) in the strategic direction and governance of firms.
Facetime will be demanded to a lesser degree as a daily expectation (appealing because that can reduce real estate costs for firms). Both Gen Y and X will push this through their savvy use of technology and social networks. However, human nature won’t change radically as to the importance of keeping top-of-mind through in-person visibility and interaction and the significance of non-verbal cues in communication. Skype and other video communication from mobile apps will help to change attitudes about non-essential in-person facetime.
Some of these changes will come about more quickly, not because of Millennial demands in general, but because the male Millennials are speaking up publicly - unlike most of the men in prior generations - to admit they want changes in the flexibility and structure that women have been more vocal about. When it’s obvious that the workplace needs to be structured to make it work better for everyone and their clients of all generations and levels (my mission for the last dozen years), change has to come.
We will see more regular collaboration among firm colleagues and with clients. Again, that is happening already. The key to this is the willingness to change compensation systems that often reward lone ranger behaviors rather than the behaviors desired to enable maximizing collaboration and helping others. That means financial incentives for transitioning clients and roles, mentoring, coaching and enabling the best person for both billable and non-billable work to be selected and accept the role
Billing models have been changing slowly for some time, and not from Gen Y influence. Clients will always be the most important influence and driver of change regarding billing models. Another driver is the success of alternate firm models, including virtual firms that can operate at lower costs and do equivalent quality work. Those firms are being started primarily by the younger half of the Boomers and Gen Xers.
Please chime in with your thoughts, comments, positive and negative and keep a dialogue going. It’s up to all of us, Millennial or not, to help determine the future and use our influence.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot www.pdcounsel.com