Generational shift in corporate law departments

Millennials will reshape the future of corporate in-house practice and potentially the overall practice of law according to a recent survey by Thomson Reuters. If you were born after 1983, you are in the millennial generation (also known as ‘Gen Y’, ‘Gen Me’ and ‘Echo Boomers’). There are a number of key traits that set millennials apart from their predecessors ‘Gen X’ and baby boomers.

According to renowned author Simon Sinek, a greater sense of entitlement, heavy reliance on technology and social media, demand for work/life balance and instant gratification are key millennial traits that can prove challenging in the workplace. With millennials likely to make up about 75 per cent of the workforce by 2025, law firms and in-house legal departments will need to seriously plan for this imminent generation shift.

In the past five years, legal ‘disruptors’ have increasingly challenged the way traditional legal firms operate, provide services and charge. Improvements in apps and online technology designed to streamline, automatise and reduce the cost of legal services are reshaping the legal profession. In addition, many new law firms are providing fixed-fee services while also outsourcing legal work thanks to online connectivity. This new work environment is starting to provide millennial lawyers with opportunities to meet the need for tech-savvy, responsive and adaptable legal practitioners.

The key challenges of this generational shift include:

Brain drain

For decades, so-called boomers have dominated the practice of law and shaped the work practices of firms and in-house departments. According to the survey, legal departments are currently unprepared for this ensuing generational shift as more millennials look to join the ranks of salaried in-house lawyers after ‘cutting their teeth’ in private practice. Change management, together with well-developed mentoring and succession plans, will be critical to avoiding a potential brain drain by accommodating the needs of millennials. This will inevitably require abandoning some of the more traditional and hierarchical practices prevalent in the law. Millennials naturally aspire to have a voice and be valued; without the proper work environment, they are likely to be constantly on the move looking for quality.

Technology

No one in legal practice can deny the fact that technology and connectivity are transforming the practice of law in an unprecedented way. A much more tech-based and digitised legal practice is allowing corporate organisations to expand and modernise their in-house legal departments by employing lawyers competent in online research, processes and platforms. The automatisation of legal services, however, will also present some challenges to the relevance of lawyers working in areas of the law where technology may have greater applicability. How and when this is likely to occur is yet to be seen. Despite speculation about future legal practice rendering some lawyers obsolete, new and emerging legal areas such as cyber-law, product liability and global regulations are likely to provide an array of opportunities for a new generation of lawyers.

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