In November last year, the 25-year-old New Zealand member of Parliament, Chlöe Swarbrick, gave a speech about a bill that would set a target of zero carbon emissions for the country by 2050. When she was interrupted by an older collegue during her presentation, she very casually dropped the biting remark “OK boomer” in response. Twitter exploded, and she immediately became an internet hero for popularising the phrase. Before that, it was otherwise only used and known by members of the Generation Z on more narrow internet forums, but something in it resonated with a more general feeling in the youth.
OK boomer is a humorous phrase that is used to “dismiss out-of-touch or close-minded opinions associated with the baby boomer generation and older people more generally”. (We know. The fact that we are explaining what it means make us borderline subject to boomerism). It is a somehow defeatist sentence that expresses the pointlessness of even arguing with, not to say convince with a boomer since they are so out of reach with the reality of the youth. It is a cry of frustration over lack of understanding, and a complain that the older generations are leaving behind an uninhabitable earth, created an economy that forces younger generations into extreme debt, prevented them from entering the housing market and leaves them no chance but to take up precarious job positions. It is simply a powerless youth that expresses their frustration that older generations have breached the generational contract: that you should leave the next generations with a better world than what you entered. Or at least not a worse.
If we translate that into a legal industry context, the boomer would be the managing partner who is reluctant to make long term investments in the technological transformation. One who is not willing to invest in giving the younger generations the skills they need to compete in the future. One that knows the partner model is outdated but want to make the last profit before the whole system collapses. That is, of course, a very narrow-minded and somehow hostile stereotype, but for some young legal professionals, this is what they see and experience. They see a legal industry dominated by boomerism.
But it does not have to be that way. There is a lot you can do to get the most of the younger generations and overcome this gap of age and mentality. It starts with getting to know what has formed the younger generations and figuring out what motivates them in their work-life.
Generation Z (born between 1995-2010 approximately) will enter the workforce with new ideas. They are a large and highly diverse generation that is about to comprise a third of the world’s population which will give them a major impact on the legal industry in the years to come. They cannot be ignored.
Contrary to the generations before them, members of the generation z do not remember the end of history and the happy ’90s before the September 11 attacks and the following War on Terror. They recall neither communism, cold war or cassettes. Instead, they have grown up to experience the rise of China and a financial crisis that has bought uncertainty to their parents and older siblings.
Not only are they digital natives, they have never known a world without the internet. They are used to free and shared information, they expect one-click online purchasing, and they do not even perceive a difference between the online and offline world. Those worlds are integrated and intertwined to a point where they have come one.
Furthermore, the Generation Z is often environmentally conscious, less loyal to brands, and prefer experiences over things. As the most diverse generation ever, they take diversity for granted, and they are more are open-minded than other generations when it comes to identity, gender and sexuality.
The lines between the Generation Z and the Millennials are blurry, so you might be well-prepared if you are used to managing the latter. According to a report by Deloitte, both generations are independent and entrepreneurial, and they search for meaningfulness in the jobs pursue. However, research shows that Generation Z is more likely to prefer stability than Millennials.
It is important to learn how to appeal to Generation Z if you run a law firm that wants to recruit and retain the top talent among the youngest generation.
Generation Z has no tolerance for analogue traditionalism. They want the best and most smooth legal technologies available. They are used to quick information search, attractive designs and intuitive UX. According to a study by Dell Technologies found that 80% them aspire to work with cutting-edge technology. Also, more than 90 % of them said that technology would influence their choice of employer among similar offers. Because they are so tech-dependent, they also have a shorter attention span. That should be reflected in the choice of digital products.
If you want to attract the best talent among Generation Z, then you must have a solid tech-stack. You must automate tedious manual processes, and you must understand that digital communication is equal to face-to-face interaction. As the current COVID-19 crisis has shown, the modern trophy real-estate is more or less redundant.
Personalised careers in stable environments
To appeal to Generation Z, law firms must personalise their career experiences. Contrary to the Millenial workforce that has little loyalty to their employers and thrives better in a gig-based economy, Generation Z prefers job stability. That might be because they have grown up in the post-financial crisis era and because they are to most debt-laden generation in history (mostly student-debt because they also the best-educated generation in history). Because of this, Generation Z can expect to be more loyal to the firm and work harder if you offer them a more personalised career development path and place more value on opportunities for advancement.
Generation Z is diverse, and they value individual expression and avoid the label, as stated by Mckinsey. Deloitte-research suggests that “Gen Z has the opportunity to shift the “balance of power” between the employer and the employee to a model where instead of workers trying to fit into a box called a “job”, organisations will need to tailor work around the curated skillset of a worker.“ That means employers should do more to understand the behaviours of their employees and give them: “more than just filling cookie-cutter roles.”
Purpose and perspective
Generation Z is the best-educated generation ever. They are used to learning, and they like to improve. Young Generation Z attorneys will always look to improve their skillsets, engage in training programs and to investigate how to work smarter. Let them, encourage them and help them get better. They prefer the opportunity for advancement is over more salary, so give them a perspective, and you will be rewarded.
Also, younger generations expect companies to take a stand. They are aware of the ethics of the companies they engage with and the judge brands based on actions and ideals. There will, of course, always be someone ready to take a well-paid case for the oil industry, but if you want your Generation Z employees to feel good, make them work with something meaningful, give them a higher purpose.
Niels Martin Brøchner is CEO in Contractbook and one of the most important voices in legal tech in Denmark