Almost every day, we see yet another article on millennials; they are examined, poked, and prodded to determine just exactly what they are and why they are not like the rest of us.
I would argue to the contrary. They are just like the rest of us – only better. Millennials represent the hopes and dreams of the generation that came before them. We made them, hence we should already understand them.
Yes, the Baby Boomers (and those just a bit younger) raised millennials in the same way that BigLaw – the world’s biggest and most successful law firms – trains its young lawyers. Like parents, partners teach associates best practices. They are models for what works and what doesn’t. BigLaw creates environments, activities, and committees geared toward pleasing its associates. In more ways than one, partners praise associates, in particular for their adept use of various technologies. In fact, BigLaw continues to offer associates – as a matter of course – the most advanced technology on the market.
BigLaw parents taught their progeny to appreciate time away from work as much (or more) than time in the office. Women and minority lawyers, who had to work longer and harder to get noticed and promoted, taught their boys and girls that everyone should be held to the same standards; their children were taught not to accept anything less. As BigLaw parents of every stripe worked diligently to climb the ladder of success, they taught their children that being the best, at both recreational and academic pursuits, is paramount.
The Baby Boomers expanded BigLaw practice beyond the regional, to the national and international. As their practices grew, they encouraged their offspring to be local and global – as both learners and leaders. BigLaw parents taught independence; their children learned it. And, following suit, BigLaw parents were able to praise their children for yet another achievement.
It should not be a surprise that Baby Boomers created millennials. As in many other endeavors, we did a good job. Studies routinely show that millennials are the most highly-educated generation to date. Some may observe that millennials appear “entitled”, but millennials believe that everyone else is also entitled. They are a generous and giving generation, as highlighted in just about every published report that statistically analyzes millennials. Indeed, the annual Deloitte Millennial Surveys confirm, again and again, that millennials prefer to work with organizations that have a purpose beyond financial gain.
Is it bad that millennials want to believe in the social missions of their employers, rather than simply their professional purposes? After all, some of the work of young lawyers may be entry level or may not provide the most exciting content, and learning to do it well may be an all day and all night proposition. Yes, BigLaw’s Baby Boomers worked 24/7. No, they did not enjoy it. The difference is that (their) millennials were not raised to grin and bear it; they were raised to work hard, add value, and fight for what they believe in.
BigLaw: the challenge is to embrace millennials, to understand and serve their professional goals, and to give them something to believe in. It would be a shame to let all of your hard work go to waste – and to watch as your exquisite peas find another pod to call work, life, balance.