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Generational shifts affecting law firm recruiting: study

|Written By Helen Burnett

Generational shifts in the workplace as well as increasing globalization are just some of the new trends that law firms will have to respond to in order to stay competitive, according to a recent research project.

Lawyers were asked,

The sixth white paper in Robert Half Legal's annual Future Law Office project, entitled "The Changing Face of the Legal Industry," notes that for the first time, lawyers from four generations are now working side by side.

Generation Y lawyers, born after 1980, are starting to join those practitioners categorized as Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Generation X, in the workforce.

"Nearly two-thirds of attorneys we surveyed said they see distinctions in the work styles of the members of each generation, and 78 per cent said their law offices are taking steps to address these differences and facilitate teamwork," noted Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal.

These generational shifts are also having an impact on recruitment models and retention programs, according to the report.

"From the management perspective, four generations of attorneys and associates constitute a complex challenge; given the generational differences, a traditional, standardized approach to professional development is ineffective," says the report. "Similarly, retention programs will falter if they do not take into consideration the concerns and priorities specific to each generation."

For example, the future lawyers of Generation Y are said to value autonomy and prefer workplaces that are fun and informal. They are more likely to put family before career and are looking for flexible schedules to help them with this balance. Those of the Baby Boomer generation, on the other hand, are described as generally ambitious, career-oriented, and accustomed to dramatic changes in the workplace and intense competition for jobs.

Adam Pekarsky, director of professional development and recruitment for the Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary offices of Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, says, "On the lawyers' side of it, the biggest challenge, or the biggest disconnect that that presents, is just the expectations are different."

Pekarsky adds that partnership was the goal for many in the older generation, who sacrificed a lot to achieve this aim, but partnership may not be the brass ring for lawyers in Generation Y.

"For them, the goal is to be paid very well for what they do, but to also achieve a sustainable work-life balance," he says.

Ways that law firms have been addressing these generational shifts are through technology such as Blackberrys, allowing everyone in the firm to achieve a work-life balance, or to get work done outside traditional hours, he says.

Pekarsky adds that his firm also looks to bridge the gap between generations of lawyers and promote a group dynamic and goodwill through a peer-nominated awards system. He says half of the associates nominated for a peer award have been nominated by an older partner in the firm.

"What we say is you're going to be stronger as a group than you are as a group of individuals," he says.

More generally, according to Robert Half's study of 300 lawyers in the U.S. and Canada, 38 per cent of those surveyed say the best incentive for legal professionals to remain with a law firm would be a compensation increase or bonus. The second most popular choice was professional development opportunities, with 29 per cent citing that incentive.

Another major factor that is changing the way law firms operate, according to the report, is the increasing trend towards globalization.

"With more corporations establishing a multinational presence or engaging in cross-border business deals, the need for law firms to develop a global practice is likely to continue well into the future," says the report.

After surveying 150 of the largest law firms in the U.S., the report found that 63 per cent were planning to open an office in Asia, while 50 per cent had plans to expand into Europe. Of the firms surveyed, 13 per cent are planning to put stakes down in Canada.

There are also several long-term changes happening on the business side of law, according to the report.

The report says competitive pressures are an issue for law firms after declining merger activity: "some large firms are once again joining forces to provide the greater depth and geographic reach of services that their multinational clients require."

Midsized firms are often forming legal networks in order to compete with these megafirms, and can sometimes have a wider global reach, says the white paper.

It also notes that there is a "steady exodus" of experienced lawyers from large to midsized firms, with firms of 100 or fewer lawyers hiring more experienced talent than their counterparts with 500 or more lawyers, according to the report.

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