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A law firm survival guide for millennials

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By The Careers Team on

How young lawyers can overcome the negative stereotypes associated with their generation

Stereotype 1: Millennials can’t speak on the phone

With Whatsapp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger more popular than ever before, law firms are beginning to realise their new recruits just aren’t as used to speaking on the phone as their older colleagues.

John Watkins, director of employability at The University of Law, and Hina Belitz, employment law specialist and managing partner at Partners Law, both note the truth in this stereotype. For Belitz, it proves a particular frustration:

Sometimes colleagues seem to read the word ‘call’ as ‘communicate’, so when I ask them to call a client they will send an email instead and think that’s good enough.

But it isn’t; for Belitz the words ‘call’ and ‘communicate’ are simply not interchangeable. She goes on:

There are nuances that you can only understand when you speak to someone. By sending an email, you miss out on subtleties and often don’t get a true representation of what the clients’ feelings are.

Perhaps equally frustrating for Belitz is that when she has observed her younger colleagues on the phone, they’re actually pretty good. It seems this stereotype stems not from a lack of ability, but a lack of confidence.

The best way to combat this, Watkins says, is good old-fashioned practice, and it’s best to start early. Take part in pro bono clinics and telethons while at university. “If you can go into a firm and not only explain but demonstrate to future employers you’re well-equipped for phone conversations and therefore not going to take up much of their time and resources, this will make you a better candidate,” he says.

Stereotype 2: Millennials can’t concentrate

“Lots of information comes to younger people in short, sharp bursts,” Watkins tells us, “and the temptation sometimes is to digest it in that way.”

Because of this, millennials are seen as having short attention spans, which means they struggle to make it through long reports, bundles and boring administrative tasks.

“If your concentration span is poor,” Watkins advises, “avoid taking long hours for lunchtime and take short, regular breaks instead. If you look at the bigger picture here, you could end up clocking up a higher total number of billable hours because you’ve been concentrating better overall.”

While younger people may be nervous about challenging normal working patterns, many law firm partners, Belitz included, encourage breaks if it helps work ethic overall.

The key, Watkins says, is to present the break as a positive:

You must not think: ‘I’m going to take some time off now because I’m lazy and can’t be bothered to do my work.’ You must present it as ‘I’m going to take a few minutes out so I can concentrate better overall.’

Stereotype 3: Millennials are impatient and expect instant gratification

Students and young lawyers are used to getting content in a click and want information instantaneously. Couple this with programmes like the X Factor and The Apprentice, and many get the impression they are entitled to instant gratification.

This is a real bugbear for Belitz, who tells us:

I notice a lot of younger people expect instant, and often excessive, rewards, and have an innate sense of being entitled to more than they have, with no need to do any hard graft for it. Within months, junior lawyers expect promotions and pay rises simply for doing the work we’ve given them to do.

But being a lawyer is not like the X Factor. “You need to try to think of law as a career, not as a job, and note that successful lawyers develop over time,” Watkins explains. “Bringing students into contact with people of different ages at different stages of their careers soon makes them realise this. Flagging this up at an early stage is important as it allows students to align themselves with the idea of change and development.”

With this, Belitz agrees: “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Stereotype 4: Millennials can’t organise their time

A lack of independence and ability to organise one’s time is a millennial stereotype both Watkins and Belitz have come across.

“Task management simply isn’t there,” Belitz tells us, while Watkins notes that this “lack of personal organisation is made worse by high living costs in university cities”. He believes that some students who live at home during their studies can “become so used to having their clothes washed for them that their independence skills are really watered down.”

Getting through the working day without being babied is crucial to career development, Belitz stresses. Her advice is simple: if your boss tells you to do something, make sure you do it without needing to be reminded. A big fan of visible lists (“I feel unsettled when I ask someone to do something and they say ‘ok’ but don’t write it down”), Belitz shares an important pearl of wisdom:

You must think like and act like whatever it is you want to become and achieve. If you’re a trainee, act like a solicitor. If you’re a solicitor, act like a partner; it’s the best way to move forward.

For more information check out the careers and employability section of ULaw’s website.

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