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Understanding gen Z lawyers and their influence on hiring trends in law

updated on 28 June 2023

Reading time: six minutes

Law firms in London are experiencing a shift in attitudes and hiring trends as generation Z (gen Z), born between 1995 and 2012, enters the workforce. This generation brings a new set of values, preferences and expectations that significantly differ from previous generations, which need to be integrated into the workforce and the legal professions’ approach to hiring. Gen Z lawyers are highly connected, prioritise the boundary between work and personal life and align work with their personal beliefs and values. So, how can law firms and this pool of talent find alignment, while taking into account their career aspirations, digital connectivity, environmental consciousness and different approach to working?

Who’s gen Z?

Unlike previous generations, gen Z is less willing to follow a predetermined career path and instead prioritises finding work that aligns with their values and provides a sense of purpose. This generation seeks opportunities for growth, mentorship, and work/life balance in their day to day, but are generally not against changing the status quo and fighting against the existing structure. In our recent gen Z survey, we saw that more than 30% of the respondents choose a potential employer based on their formal mentorship and training programmes. Similarly, more than 60% of them would trade in compensation for more time off and flexibility. Given these drivers, asking interview questions that focus on how mentorship is delivered will help candidates to truly evaluate growth opportunities in this particular career.

Gen Z lawyers are known for their digital connectivity and being ultra-connected, which is reflected in the way they approach and make career choices. They actively engage with legal influencers on YouTube and TikTok, where discussions about law firms and their cultures take place in a way that hasn’t been seen before. There’s a new layer of transparency for some law firms and the wider industry, which sheds light on the realities of the day to day in these types of job. This digital dialogue allows them to gain insights into potential employers early on and make informed decisions based on peer recommendations and shared experiences, if that’s even the path they want to go down anyway. It’s a smart move by prospective employees – leveraging technology, information and recommendations can ensure you’re more likely to find happiness in your chosen company and career and the easier this is for people to find, the better.

Gen Z is also conscious of aligning their work with their personal values. One example of this can be seen in a Harvard law student group that ranks firms based on their environmental impact, noting the recent Canadian wildfires impacting air quality in New York as being a result of the work law firms did. This makes it clear that this generation is mindful of the impact their work has on the world and its environment. This misalignment between the values of gen Z lawyers and certain firms' clients can ultimately influence their career decisions. In this instance, this group seeks employers who prioritise sustainability; environmental responsibility; and social justice as these factors resonate with their own core values. The difficulty is whether firms should or would refocus their energy and client base – not everyone can. While some firms are building renewables practices within this space, the traditional fossil fuel giants have deep pockets and can afford the fees big law commands. Without that system, training and hiring can’t exist in the current form and it’ll be some time until there are alternatives. If you hold a strong cause to heart, it’s worth doing research on which law firms those companies or organisations engage with – news articles and LinkedIn often will point you in the right direction.

What does this mean for law firms?

Unlike previous generations, fewer gen Z members are moving out and finding their own places, instead London-based associates are choosing to live at home after graduation. This decision is driven by a desire to save money and focus on long-term goals such as buying a house, rather than immediate gratification and spending money on rent. They want to maximise their enjoyment outside of work and increase their disposable income. Indeed, our survey found that this generation was still driven by compensation considerations in a new role, with progression and top-market salary being the two drivers that would make them stay in big law long term. When finding a potential employer, it’s likely that most people will want some kind of hybrid office arrangement. While some firms are increasing face time in the office, there are still a significant number of firms that offer flexibility. This is a valid question to ask at the interview stage – but be mindful of your audience. Partners are going to want to understand your career drivers and reasons for interviewing there, so more practical questions should be reserved for recruiting teams or be found in firm literature. Remember, feedback is often discussed behind the scenes, with all interviewing parties involved.

Older generations, including parents of gen Z lawyers and law students, have observed that this generation actively pushes back against the traditional career paths and experiences they had. Gen Z lawyers aren’t solely driven by the pursuit of the same achievements as their parents. They seek fulfilment and purpose in their work, and financial considerations alone may not be enough to motivate them. In fact, they might not be looking for a similar career path at all, frequently rejecting the ‘golden handcuffs’ of the ‘golden treadmill’ (even though, as the parents note, it helps them achieve the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to). As the potential ‘inheritance generation’, some may question whether they need to bother with traditional career paths at all with the promise of property and inheritance in the future. How does this play out in the workplace? Generational and workplace politics and dynamics are important to both individual and company success. New hires should be able to express ideas and change but equally respect that sometimes things must be done a certain way and that won’t change. Fostering good internal relationships and being known as a problem solver go a long way in your career development efforts.

Gen Z lawyers aren’t simply replicating the career paths of older generations – they’re redefining success and seeking purpose in their work. However, they should be mindful of the industry’s intricacies and processes that are still impactful today. Employers in the legal industry must also adapt to these changing trends to attract and retain the best talent from this influential generation. While the partnership model is less attractive than it used to be, there are still parts of a cohort that seek that career path.

Nathan Peart is the managing director and associate practice lead at legal recruitment firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.