Tips for Managing Multiple Generations in the Legal Profession

Today’s legal profession is generationally diverse, with baby boomers, Generation X and Millennials all present in the workforce. Clients can benefit from the various perspectives and experiences multigenerational teams bring to legal projects. But for legal management, getting the most from a generationally diverse workforce can be challenging because of the different expectations each demographic group often has about work:

  • Baby boomers: This generation is known for its ambition, as well as for prescribing to the "pay your dues" approach to working up the career ladder. While this segment of workers currently represents a large portion of the workforce, many are starting to plan for their retirement.

  • Generation X: This demographic group typically values work-life balance; and the quest to achieve it has prompted many Gen Xers to self-direct their legal careers and strike out on their own.

  • Millennials: The newest generation on the scene, Millennials, have grown up with technology and view computer literacy as a necessity. They’re generally more vocal about the desire for work-life balance and embrace mobile working. Many Millennials also prefer merit-based promotion in legal jobs, not merely seniority-based advancement.

Beware of buying into stereotypes or basing your management strategies solely on these generalizations, however. Not all members of an age cohort have identical preferences. Moreover, workers of different ages may want many of the same things, such as flexible schedules or professional development opportunities. While you should avoid making age-based assumptions, awareness of broad similarities can still be useful from a management perspective.

Multigenerational management strategies

Given the diverse views that different generations in the legal profession have toward work, what can managers do to promote cross-generational collaboration and help all employees feel like they’re part of one team?

First and foremost, understand that there’s more common ground here than you might think. Baby boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials all want satisfying careers, opportunities to work to their full potential, to feel valued, and to be compensated appropriately for good performance. And no matter how ambitious their career goals, most legal professionals — from any generation — value the ability to maintain work-life balance.

With those things in mind, here are a few strategies to consider as part of your approach to managing a multigenerational legal workforce:

  1. Provide flexibility by offering telecommuting as an option. When job responsibilities and work projects allow, consider providing employees the option to work where they feel most productive — whether that's in the law office, at home or at the corner coffee shop.

  2. Allow for variable work hours. Members of all generations appreciate the opportunity to have flexibility in their schedules to deal with personal circumstances -- so they can drop their kids off at school, hit the gym, or manage appointments.

  3. Set up mentoring relationships. Pair junior associates with more experienced members of your legal team for either formal or informal knowledge-sharing and training opportunities.

  4. Offer multiple forms of feedback. Take time to find out how, and how often, employees from different generations in your workplace prefer to receive feedback on their performance. For example, Millennials may be looking for ongoing reinforcement while Gen Xers may be comfortable with quarterly reviews.

Of course, the best strategy to enable different generations to work together effectively is for coworkers to interact frequently. Do what you can to promote communication and collaboration among the generations in your legal workforce, so they can learn each other's communication preferences. And when assigning staff to legal projects, take care to choose members from each generation, as appropriate. Your workforce is multigenerational — so, too, should be your legal teams.

For more information on workplace trends in the legal profession, download a complimentary copy of Robert Half Legal's Future Law Office