In survey results that they published a few weeks ago, Above the Law and Major Lindsay and Africa presented thoughts from 1200 polled millennial attorneys on private law firm practice, making partner, and how their career goals align with the goals of their law firms. (You can download a copy of the report here.) The report also contains some interesting data points about how this millennial lawyer cohort views in-house counsel practice – obviously of significant interest to us here at Dollar Barrister.
But before we get there, it’s clear that the law firm business model is in need of some serious PR; millennial attitudes toward private practice aren’t so enthusiastic. Indeed, as the report notes (quoted language from Law360):
Nearly 51% of the young lawyers polled agreed or strongly agreed that the firm business model is “fundamentally broken,” and 66% agreed that firm partnership is less desirable than it was a generation ago.
Still, 40% of the millennial participants said they hope to be partners, a higher percentage than aspired to any other career path, according to the report. When broken down by gender, about 33% of male respondents said they want to make partner at their current firm, compared to almost 26% of the female participants.
But as the report makes clear, partnership is clearly still an attractive and worthwhile goal for many young lawyers (although in my view, this analysis should depend on your firm, your practice area, and whether you are on an equity or non-equity track).
For example, with respect to goals more broadly, and what millennial lawyers see themselves doing in 10 years, nearly 18% of those surveyed want to go in-house. In fact, going in-house was the second-highest response to this question (28% see themselves as partners in their current firm, 12% partners at another firm, 12% partners at their own firm, 12% not practicing law at all, 10% working in government or for a non-profit, and just 6% working in a small boutique firm.)
This last number surprises me – so often we hear about Biglaw refugees jumping into smaller firms in order to escape the crushing hours, but these results suggest that might not be the case. Certainly there is a difference between a high-end boutique practice that pays at the top of the market and a small firm operating out of a strip mall. But I always believed – perhaps anecdotally – that boutique practice held real appeal as a landing spot for Biglaw washouts – looks like that’s not necessarily the case, at least for the millennials.
The report presents results from a specific question about in-house practice: “why are you interested in going in-house?” It’s difficult at times to find data points relevant to in-house practice, so it’s noteworthy that the varied responses to this question as outlined in the report echo many of the themes we discuss here at Dollar Barrister:
Better work-life balance: 34.1%
Opportunity to become a business decision-maker: 24.7%
As an alternative to law firm practice: 21.2%
It’s the only viable alternative career path: 9.4%
More financial opportunity: 9.4%
Interestingly, the report does note that there was a 10 percent drop (from 47%) in millennial lawyers who were looking to go in-house for a “better work-life balance” than in the last version of this report.
The reasons for this shift could be myriad – from companies keeping more legal work in-house to budgets being stretched and a heavier workload falling on fewer in-house attorneys. But my thought here is that while you may end up working just as hard in-house as you did in the law firm, you won’t be billing your time. And until you escape the billable hour rat race you won’t be able to appreciate just how much better it is practicing law outside of six-minute increments.
Finally, and perhaps driving millennials’ interest in moving in-house as noted above, the cohort’s leading response to the question “which of the following, if any, would you trade a portion of your compensation for?” was “a flexible work schedule” (26%, followed by “more time off,” also at nearly 26%, “a cut in billable hours,” 23%, “more time for training and career development,” 10%, and “better health benefits,” 9%).
Not every in-house job will offer a flexible work schedule, of course, particularly if you find yourself as the first lawyer or part of a small in-house legal team. But as we’ve discussed here previously, if you land in a large legal department of a large company, the odds are good that you will be able to arrange your schedule in a way that works for you. (Remember – either you control your own calendar, or someone else will control it for you!)
What do you think of these results?