INTERNATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION AFRICA REGIONAL FORUM CONFERENCE, ACCRA 2017
PRESENTATION ON THE CHALLENGES OF MANAGING LEGAL STAFF AND THE MILLENNIALS IN A LAW FIRM
PRESENTED BY PRISCILLA OGWEMOH (MRS), MANAGING PARTNER – OLISA AGBAKOBA LEGAL
Good Afternoon Gentlemen,
I congratulate the International Bar Association Africa Regional Forum and the Ghanaian Bar Association for successfully hosting this year’s conference. The opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues from across the African Continent and beyond on current trends and diverse issues in law firm management is appreciated. And I feel honoured for an opportunity to also share my experience on managing legal staff and millenials in a law firm.
Central to the topic and issue being discussed is Employee and People Management in generational window. In terms of employee and employment dynamics, Legal Staff are as good as other staff elsewhere that could be described in terms of motivation, job satisfaction, career plan, growth, succession etc. Therefore, common factors affecting employees in other establishments also affect staff in legal establishments including law firms.
So the focus is on paradigm and concept – the Millennials?
In its website, Central Piedmont Community College Charlotte, USA describes aptly the millennial generation as the generation of children born between 1982 and 2002. It further states that some 81 million children within the cadre have already entered college and or are in the workforce. Wikipedia describes Millennials (also known as Generation Y) as the demographic cohort following Generation X. It states no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends as demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid -1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years. The popular website further states that Millennials are sometimes referred to as “Echo Boomers” by population and demography scholars due to a major surge
in birth rates in the 1980s and 1990s, and because Millennials are often the children of a preceding generation known as Baby boomers. With the foregoing simple and adaptive definitions, the birthing age of these class of people is often used to describe them including their persona and attributes in off and on work situations. With reference to our discussion, we are dealing with Millennial Staff and Attorneys in a law firm.
Gentlemen, I have a great privilege of possessing combined experiences that will enable me to make a modest contribution to the topic. First, I am a mother to three millenials. Second, I have been Managing Partner of the firm Olisa Agbakoba Legal for over 17 years hence I observed firsthand the evolving stages of legal practice and a surge of millennial attorneys within law firms, having joined the law firm of Olisa Agbakoba Legal in 1992 as an Associate Counsel.
I will relate my experience on challenges of managing Millenials within the context of common features/factors under which Millenials have often been described and perceived under the following categories;
Millenials who constitute the core of attorneys, paralegal and other staff arose within an era of an increase in a liberal approach to politics, business and economics. Law firms should appreciate these shifts which has profound effect on the generation. For instance, the recession in 2008 resulted in a paradigm shift in approach to business and value creation which requires commercial lawyers understanding of the impact on value pricing. This has become more imperative with the rise in information technology and the blurring of lines of distinction between law and business. Prof. Watkins of Harvard Law School in his paper on Law Practice and Value Pricing presented at a 2015 Business Law Conference in Nigeria explained that recession have led to a great reduction in what economists describe as information asymmetry between buyers and seller, which in the sense of this presentation is same as lawyers and clients.
Just like buyers, Clients have become more sophisticated and better able to get what they want, where they want and how they want it, much more than before largely due to ICT. The implication of the foregoing is that new ways of law practice will emerge and constantly develop, and eventually overshadow the traditional practices which held sway before of the emergence of millennial attorneys.
Adaptive responses have been recorded in the area of new trainings and culture of lawyering. Law degrees are increasingly multi-disciplinary and innovative with millennial Attorneys being trained in diverse disciplines, knowledge and skills. Clients now unbundle legal services into various components and are now asking lawyers to price the components, not on the basis of the input of time spent producing the services but on the output of the value to the client. Accordingly, the traditional way law firms make money will erode with time. Clients now want lawyers to partner with other kinds of organizations to produce value in the way they (clients) see value and then to price it accordingly. Law firms should position to harness the multi-dimensional potentials of Millenials. Where there is poor appreciation and mainstreaming of the current trends in capacity building, new trainings, exposure, job and role description within a law firm, there will likely be reduction in productivity, lack of commitment and its reverse effect on income generation. New strategies which fits into clients’ new business outlooks will entail a corresponding attitude which in my opinion will be best realized and applied from diverse skills and capacities of millennial attorneys and staff.
Millennials are entrepreneurial. They are referred to as the startup kids who grew up on entrepreneurship, watching Steve Jobs lead the renewed Apple, Mark Zuckerberg create a social media sensation, Facebook. This spirit of entrepreneurship should be at the heart of ideologies of a law firm. Over the years, I have come to recognize that lawyers should improve their business skills through training in management and leadership skills. Younger lawyers should be encouraged to sharpen their business acumen and see themselves as fee earners through some form of business development process. Gone are the days when most lawyers tend to be conservative and expect that clients will just walk into your office and engage you. Every lawyer must be made to recognize that the client has a choice; after all there are a million lawyers out there. The ability to retain a client therefore depends on the ability of the lawyer to provide value-added services to the client. Another crucial element of managing people effectively is encouraging millennials and every member of the team to be involved in the billing process. In our firm, the appellation fee earner is used for lawyers because every lawyer is expected to play an important role in the revenue generation process.
In general, I advocate a conceptual review of law firm from that rigid, traditional institution/profession to new mode of legal entrepreneurship will satisfy the professional disposition of millennial Attorneys towards a profitable career and vocations.
CULTURE OF CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (CSR)
The generations X (millenials) are active volunteers, mainly because they feel an urge to help people, having been encouraged to do this while in school. CSR is now embedded at the heart of new enterprises including law firms. The urge of millenials to be part of changing and improving lives should be integrated to accommodate this attribute. The world has witnessed active participation of millennials especially in relief efforts in disaster areas, compassions for terror attack victims and mass movements on diverse issues bolstered by the ever developing social media. Law firms must be alive to this sensitivity and participate, lead or support issues of corporate social responsibility as path of professional and personal development schemes for millenials. As lawyers and law firms, pro bono activities and public interest causes should be embedded in career and professional activities due the need to encourage employees to give back to the society and improve the wellbeing of our community where they operate. Encouraging participation in CSR activities is known to give employees an increased sense of duty and is one culture millenials have become endeared to.
WORKPLACE ATTITUDE/CAREER GROWTH/MENTORSHIP
Many of the millenials within Legalfield especially law firms’ fall within the middle level cadre with attendant mis-match of expectation between them and the senior lawyers. Though this is contextual, but clearly there is now a shift from “Barrister-Pupil” relationship arrangement that senior lawyers are used to. In workplaces, senior lawyers’ expectation from juniors who are majorly millennials span three main qualities – Intelligence, Integrity and Energy, including readiness to learn and ability to listen. There is also an expectation of some latent intelligence. In practice, there is need to allow flexibility in management’s disposition to latitude in behavioral Integrity which means providing opportunity for standards assurance – attitude of doing things in a reliable way and upholding firm standards even when not monitored. Nowadays younger lawyers see characters like Harvey Specter and Alicia Florrick in the television series, “Suits” and “the Good wife”, as their role models, and the senior lawyers are almost completely oblivious of whom those characters are.
However, millenials expect and require certain level of training and oftentimes need someone senior or an experienced guardian to speak with when there are problems. Productivity is higher when mentorship is provided and therefore skill enhancement and exposure is needed. Firms must have a strong and effective training policy and be ready to expose their staff to all levels of training, both locally and internationally. And this should cut across all levels of the organization. Mentoring is crucial from the senior lawyers and great skills are crucial to gauge or align millennials’ enthusiasm, right attitude to work, improved work atmosphere which affects energy to get the best out of millenials. Myers, karen K, Kayamb et al in their 2010 paper titled Millenials in the Work place: A communication Perspective on Millennials’s Organizational Relationships and Performance published Journal of Business and Psychology highlighted that more than ever before, Millenials at work place expect close relationship and frequent feedback from supervisors. Law firms should encourage lawyers to embark on personal development exercises such as writing articles on broad legal issues, attending professional career development training programmes, writing professional exams, etc. Our recently received massive review when it encouraged a group of young lawyers (millennials) lawyers under a mentor to venture into Sports, Entertainment and Fashion Segments which were hitherto not covered as practice areas.
Another area where firms encounter challenge is in management of Work-Salary balance for its staff. There is no gainsaying that there must be work-salary balance especially for millennials who are socially proactive. From several appraisals I have supervised in our law firm, conferences, mentoring programmes and engagement with interns, the opinion of young (millennials) is that they should be incentivized or shown appreciation for the work they do. The argument by senior lawyers that junior lawyers should focus on gaining experience and not financial rewards is outdated, as they (the millennials) put it; experience will not pay today’s bills and neither will it fill empty stomach.
Millenials who constitute majority of junior lawyers are keen for progression and financial reward while the senior lawyers may feel that junior lawyers ought to be paying for the pupillage and training they are receiving instead of get big financial reward. A decisive factor is that in this current era of social and economic awareness, there is an enlarging desire for financial comfort embedded in competitive reward systems. While the expectations of millennial lawyers and generally legal staff may not be entirely met, competitive salaries and remuneration will be an incentive to retain the best. The Millennials are smart, dynamic, and exuberant. Regular review of reward systems and welfare will an added advantage for productivity and self-actualization. Adequate compensation or appreciation for work done will therefore reduce distraction and restlessness amongst millennial attorneys and staff.
Within the context of career and professional growth, engendering a work-Life balance is also crucial. Professional excellence does not necessarily have to come at the expense of personal happiness. Also, Law firms need to realize that law is becoming ‘feminized’ as greater number of women is qualifying as lawyers. Accordingly, law firms will need to revise career path and role description to be sensitive to the peculiarities of women – as staff. For instance, job transfers and role description and distribution should subtlety recognize gender demand and peculiarities. Two authors, A. Hershatte and M. Epstein in a study published in Journal of Business and Psychology (2010) cited above, stresses a growing importance on work-life balance for millennials and generality of staff.
Socially, millennial lawyers and indeed junior lawyers and staff want to explore other areas of interest other than the legal practice. They want to learn, socialize and get involved in other vocations. Structures or initiatives should be put in place to enable junior lawyers achieve social aspiration and explore their life and other talents. At OAL, we recognized this attribute and to the bridge gap to an extent, we introduced a quarterly in-house social activity called the HAPPY HOUR which occurs at a specially designed “lounge” within the office complex that could pass for an A-list club anywhere. This event which happens on the last Friday of the scheduled month is organized with activities such dancing competition. Guests include friends, clients gather in a drink and chat session. This has had an enormous effect on team work, bonding within and outside the firm and has filed the void created by schedules that affect social activities by Staff.
Millennials are inquisitive, adventurous, and assertive in their demands and aspiration. Career progression in the firm should be communicated clearly so that junior lawyers know what is ahead of them and management should show commitment to the plan. An important aspect of people management is career growth and development. It must be understood that the younger generation of lawyers are restless and eager to explore the world. Therefore a career development plan is important to retain talents especially in an era of War of Talent in professional services. A visible succession plan which rewards commitment and handwork through promotions and elevations must be encouraged. Every lawyer within a firm structure should see himself as a potential partner and be well equipped and trained for leadership roles. Succession planning should be practiced and there must be no obvious barriers to getting to the top.
IMPACT OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY
From when only a few law firms had computers to the age of technology where most firms can now use different office management software’s and techniques to effectively run a law firm and this has had a profound effect on millenials who were born within the age of internet and technological revolution. The new generation of lawyers are tech savy and social media alert. Law firms that fail to keep up with technology will find it difficult to attract and keep the young attorneys. Also, efforts to grow a firm’s business without the support of technology and the individuals who know how to leverage it are likely to founder. The impact of technology on the time and ways in which legal services will be delivered is astounding. Technological innovation has come to play a greater role in shaping the future of the profession than any other factor. This is no time for non-technology savvy lawyers and the science of communication is not what it used to be. It is impossible to overstate the impact social media is having. It is the means by which a growing percentage of the world expects to gain relevant information. To presume that this will not have dramatic impact in our industry is to deny what is already occurring.
A global study of Millennials conducted by Telefonica in 2014 reveals that mobile technology is important to Millennials across the board, and it is not all for fun and games. In addition to entertaining themselves and keeping up with social contacts, a large percentage of Millennials use their devices for research and education. Libraries have gone online; in fact almost everything is online which proves crucial for quick and up to date results and researches. While the Books are still crucial, understanding and utilizing the technological skills and tools will bring out the best in millennial legal staffs. Building capacity of paralegal and legal staff in law firms in that area will assuage the desire for legal and technical knowledge.
I wish to conclude on a note of advice; law firms should understand that their lawyers are their building blocks. Efforts should be made to recruit and retain the best brains. The new thinking is to build sustainable law firms that will outlive generations and the millenials are the driving force to achieving it.
On that note, I wish to thank the organisers for the opportunity to speak.
Priscilla Ogwemoh (Mrs.)
Accra, November 16, 2017