With the entry of a new generation of lawyers into the workforce, they bring new ideas, perspectives and ways of working that will influence future legal practice. Gen Z practitioners will no doubt have a significant impact on the profession. Why? For one thing, this generation is relatively large: Gen Zers will soon make up a third of the world’s population, and they already make up more than a quarter of the US population. You are also the most diverse generation in US history.
Perhaps more in a nutshell, recent research shows that Gen Zers’ attitudes towards work, technology, and education differ significantly from millennials and boomers. As more boomers retire in the coming years, law firms keen to attract and retain top Generation Z talent need to understand these differences and plan accordingly.
Career prospects: A job is more than just a salary
According to a recent report based on a survey conducted by the Network of Executive Women (NEW) in partnership with Deloitte, Gen Z is similar to their millennial counterparts in their desire for independence and entrepreneurial instinct. Unlike Millennials, whose career goals seem to be centered around startups and early-stage companies, Gen Zers are more likely to value the security of stable employment even when looking for diverse and entrepreneurial opportunities and may offer companies that can offer it more loyalty this stability.
The dramatic increase in tuition fees and student debt has made this generation the most educated and indebted generation yet, which may help explain their propensity for a more stable work environment. Compared to their Gen Y counterparts, however, Gen Zers seem to place more emphasis on career opportunities and meaningful work, and are much less likely to spend more money (28% versus 42% for Gen Y) as incentives to work and stay harder call an employer longer, according to the personnel consultancy Randstad. This could contradict traditional law firms’ demands for new hires for billable hours and personal sacrifice in exchange for career advancement and a heavy paycheck.
Technology: Give me smarter, easier-to-use, and more customized tools
Unsurprisingly, Generation Z digital natives – the first generation born after the widespread adoption of the internet – are drawn to working in the tech industry. A study by Dell Technologies found that 80% of Generation Z respondents seek cutting-edge technology. A staggering 91% say technology would influence career choices among similar job openings, and 80% believe technology and automation will create a fairer work environment. But even for those Gen Zer who work in other fields, assumptions and attitudes about technology are likely very important factors in their adaptation to the workplace.
A 2019 LexisNexis survey of more than 5,000 law students across the United States provides some useful insight into how the next generation of lawyers view technology. When asked about the reasons that determine their legal technology preferences, Generation Z law students cited (in order of the most important) ease of use, quickly found information, attractive appearance and design, searches that produce the expected results, and depth and width of the content.
While today’s law students are similar to current legal practitioners, citing ease of use (72%) and the ability to find information quickly (62%) as the main drivers behind their technology preferences, what sets Gen Zers apart from older generations in the industry is their placement a high value on legal analytics and data visualization tools: 77% say legal analytics tools are extremely or somewhat helpful for performing analysis or creating legal memoranda, and 77% say visualization tools are helpful for getting results .
Given that several studies have identified personalization as an important value and expectation for Gen Zers – both in the workplace and as a consumer – law firms hoping to recruit and retain young talent should also consider using Think about technologies that will help create a more personalized and personalized user experience. In addition to analysis and data visualization tools, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that can “learn” a user’s behavior over time will likely play a major role. For example, AI-powered voice assistants employing machine learning and natural language processing can briefly anticipate an individual attorney’s research questions and actually provide verbal answers to complex legal questions, rather than just links to documents. AI-powered assistants will also follow lawyers across devices and platforms to enable continuous work and even perform tasks independently on behalf of the lawyer. These are skills that are likely to be highly valued by next generation attorneys.
Education and Training: Help Me Get Better
While Gen Zers tend to have higher levels of debt through education than their predecessors, they also place a high value on education and job-related training. The LexisNexis survey shows that today’s law students are not only impressed with the technology for its own sake, but also believe that better training in legal research tools in law school will help them succeed when they graduate, and they are particularly excited about on-demand. Training instruments at your own pace.
Smart law firms should look for ways to provide young lawyers with advanced technology that enables them to work faster, smarter, and investigate more flexible, personalized learning tools that new hires can use in ways that are directly relevant to the work they do do it. Companies would also be well advised to leverage the digital expertise of the Gen Z employees they hire and get them involved immediately in technology initiatives and technology training programs so that they can take the lead in the future to contribute to those programs.
Costs and competitive pressures continue to rise as law firms struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing global marketplace. Companies are looking for ways to help new hires become more productive and contribute faster to bottom line. Understanding the unique characteristics of Gen Z – digital natives who value independence, work-life balance, advanced technologies, and personalized tools for working more efficiently and learning faster – is an important first step in building a productive and resilient workforce for the future.