Beyond Tradition: Gen-Z’s Approach to Big Law

April 29, 2024

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Nearly half of early-career associates said law school did not prepare them for firm life, a new survey from Major, Lindsey & Africa and Leopard Solutions finds

More than a third of young attorneys also said the associates at their firm are not racially diverse, an indicator of the progress that still needs to be made on firms’ diversity pushes

Hanover, MD – April 29, 2024 – As the legal industry continues to feel the ripple effects of the upheaval of the past few years, 45% of junior associates feel that law school did not adequately prepare them for their current roles, according to a new survey titled “Beyond Tradition: Gen-Z’s Approach to Big Law,” released today by Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s leading legal search firm, and Leopard Solutions, the leading provider of legal business intelligence and analytics solutions. Additionally, nearly a third of respondents (31%) said their experience working at their firms did not match their expectations coming out of law school. The survey was conducted between January and February 2024 and had 546 participants, the vast majority of whom work for AmLaw 200 firms.

“Among younger associates, whose law school years and early career intersected squarely with the height of COVID-era remote law school and remote work, it’s clear that the lack of facetime and personalized training is still having an impact on their development,” said Laura Leopard, Founder and CEO of Leopard Solutions “We know that younger attorneys place a premium on work-life balance. At the same time, though, there’s no denying that many have missed out on vital in-person training that’s necessary for growth in their legal careers. Law firms will have to find a balance that works for everyone: giving younger attorneys the flexibility they desire, while making sure they’re still receiving the mentorship they need to be successful.”

There were also notable disparities between the expectations and preferences of male and female attorneys. For instance, while most associates (67%) reported they plan to stay at their jobs for more than three years, male associates were 15 percentage points more likely to plan to stay at their firm for that time frame, compared to their female counterparts. Additionally, male participants were more likely than females (by a margin of 18 percentage points) to aspire to law firm partnership, while female participants were more likely to want to eventually pivot in-house.

“Gender disparities are an issue that firms need to continue to pay close attention to,” said Nathan Peart, Managing Director & Practice Lead in the Associate Practice Group at MLA. “The differing perceptions we saw in this survey are consistent with other data that show that female attorneys note the prevalence of issues like the gender pay gap more acutely than their male colleagues. In order to support the next generation of female attorneys, firm leaders need to take proactive steps to make sure their concerns are heard and addressed appropriately.”

In general, however, young attorneys reported high levels of satisfaction with their firm, with 83% of respondents saying they would choose the same firm again if they could. Furthermore, the vast majority (74%) of respondents said that they chose their firm based on its culture, compared to 67% who said compensation was the top driving factor in their choice of firm. This signals that this generation of attorneys values the quality of their work environment to a high degree.

“We’re continuing to see a shift in priorities among younger attorneys: While compensation and prestige previously were the primary motivators for attorneys’ career decisions, this generation places more importance on having a work culture that is synergistic to their personality and goals,” said Jacqueline Bokser LeFebvre, Managing Director in the Associate Practice Group at MLA. “In order to retain their top young talent, law firms should focus on fostering a values-driven and transparent culture – one that continues to provide a challenging, competitive work environment, but can also be supportive and adaptable to changing work styles and preferences.”

Other notable findings in the survey include:

  • More than half (52%) of Gen Z associates would trade a portion of their salary to reduce billable hours quotas if they could do so. This was especially the case among female associates, who wanted them reduced by 16 more percentage points than males.
    • Relatedly, 36% of respondents said they would trade a portion of compensation for more time off, while 27% said they would do the same for a flexible work schedule.
  • A sizable portion of younger attorneys feel their firms lag on diversity pushes, with 39% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that associates at their firm were racially diverse. This is a trend to monitor as pipeline programs and other DEI pushes face external threats in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning affirmative action.
  • More than one in four junior associates disagreed or strongly disagreed that their firms prioritize pro bono work (27%) or value social justice and responsibility (27%). This is another topic to watch as younger generations increasingly look to their employers to reflect their own social values.

Highlights of the survey results are available here.

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