Is Your Law Firm Ready for Generation Z? 

July, 2021 - Sasha Stepanova

Who remembers fax machines as being de rigueur in legal and professional service offices?

And what are we currently using as a trusted tool that will go the way of the fax?

Generation Z–those born in the late 1990s, the oldest of whom are almost 25–will soon make up almost one-third of the world’s population and they are taking their first steps into the professional workplace. As the first generation to be digital natives from birth they will surely change the workplace, but how? While some in the media may deride Gen Z professionals as crusading moral warriors wanting to question the ethical origin of every paperclip in the office, law firms are realising the benefits of bringing such digital natives into an appraisal of their service delivery.   

Last month global law firm Linklaters selected 25 of its trainees to be part of a new practice innovation and efficiency (PIE) team. The group’s remit is to bring fresh ideas to internal processes and client delivery by working with partners and associates to analyse the mechanics of transactions and in particular to highlight the unmet needs of clients.

It is a moot point whether trainees are best placed to take on such a role—perhaps involving a wider spread of personnel including IT, administrative support, marketing, and business development would bring a more diverse approach to improving client service­—but it indicates how firms understand that they need to apply the experience of trainees not only to improve their services but also to make the trainees’ career path more attractive.

In the marketplace for Gen Z graduates, how can professional service firms attract and keep the best and brightest? A PWC survey in 2019, commissioned by LexisNexis, surveyed over 5000 law students at 200 US law schools and found that, apart from valuing speed of results and ease of use in legal research, 77% saw visualisation tools as being helpful for identifying the most relevant results. This links in to an evolving trend for design thinking in legal drafting that I mentioned in a recent post – exotic stuff for most of us, but seemingly a natural fit for Gen Z.

It is a no brainer that offering cutting-edge technology and analytics that will gradually reshape the old ways of drafting and client service is essential if Gen Z graduates are to be fully engaged. As well as using young professionals to appraise client service, Linklaters is also offering trainees a seat in its in-house tech start-up where they can learn coding skills. Perhaps one of the biggest motivators for professional service firms to pay attention to the impact and priorities of Gen Z is that it mirrors changes unfolding in the client-adviser relationship. As clients eschew the long-term special adviser relationship by becoming digital nomads not bound by geography, there may be more of a digital smorgasbord of shopping for legal services, dipping in and out to different specialists in different regions.

What does Gen Z expect from a law firm or professional services firm employer? The old benchmarks of law firm rankings and awards are not enough. In line with their values, Gen Z graduates see diversity and inclusion as well as environmental and social responsibility as a matter of necessity, rather than an optional extra from their employer.

 And they are likely to gravitate to firms that can demonstrate tangible results in their communities rather than just preaching technical excellence from an ivory tower in the business district.  

In this respect Gen Z graduates are very much aligned with companies like Coca Cola whose legal team announced in January that it will penalise firms that do not demonstrate their advancement in diversity. Although Coca Cola has since backtracked on its threats regarding diverse attorney teams, Linklaters’ announcement last month may prove to be a shrewd move in accepting that you cannot teach an old, white, male partner new tricks so it is better to build a new generation of leaders from the bottom up. 

#GenerationZ #workplace #law


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