Fewer aspiring Gen Z attorneys desire to work at a BigLaw firm, according to a 2023 survey from Major, Lindsey & Africa that explored the perspectives, thoughts, and attitudes of Gen Zers on law firm life.
The “Gen-Z: Now Influencing Today’s Law Firm Culture” survey found a 20% decrease in the number of Gen Z law students who said that they wanted to work in BigLaw after graduation compared to the 2020 survey (39% in 2023 vs. 59% in 2020). Twenty-three percent of respondents said they would like to go to a midsize firm and 16% identified government as their ideal career path.
Growing up as digital natives and experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, Gen Z attorneys and law students (who were born between 1995 and 2012) may have different priorities that cause them to veer from the BigLaw path.
“The global pandemic has had a profound impact on the world, and the legal industry is no exception,” the report said. “The way we work, interact, and think about our careers has been completely transformed, and we believe it is important to understand how this has affected the attitudes and motivations of the Gen Z cohort.”
Respondents included law students and young lawyers primarily from the U.S. (91%) but also from locations including the U.K., Germany, and Croatia, among others.
Work-life balance vs. the billable hour
The report identified three priorities for Gen Z attorneys when vetting potential workplaces: work-life balance, organizational values, and mentorship and training opportunities.
Gen Z attorneys “do not expect or want long hours to be a frequent occurrence” and place significant weight on work-life balance and flexible work arrangements, the report found. These practices may not be the norm for firms that rely on billable hours.
However, Gen Z attorneys said that they may consider the BigLaw path if the conditions are right. When asked what would cause them to stay in BigLaw, respondents said opportunities for advancement and a high market salary could do the trick.
Paige Wriston, a Gen Zer and 2L at Southern Illinois University School of Law, noted that while BigLaw can support career advancement there are drawbacks that may deter attorneys like the pressure and expectations of a high quota of billable hours and a long partnership track.
And Gen Zer Arnold Brown, a 2L at DePaul University College of Law, said that he thinks it can be difficult to get a foot in the door at a BigLaw firm and that, in his opinion, there appear to be more opportunities at small law firms.
Gen Z attorneys place significant weight on the moral values of prospective employers, the report found.
Sixty percent of respondents said that corporate responsibility programs were important for potential employers and 63% reported that a company’s social justice priorities would play a role in their decision-making process.
When asked what values she is looking for in a firm, Wriston said a firm’s dedication to clients, community, and employees ranks high, alongside opportunities for mentoring and a culture that prioritizes diversity and inclusion.
Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations. Wriston said that she thinks focusing on diversity and inclusive practices may benefit firms because diverse employees bring unique life experiences and perspectives to their work.
Brown noted the importance of corporate values too.
“Online reviews can be very telling about how a practice operates so that is what I usually look at,” he said. He wants to “know that the employer not only treats their potential prospects with respect and kindness but that they treat their employees in the same manner.”
Mentoring and training opportunities for Gen Z attorneys
Finally, formal mentorship and training was an important factor for Gen Z attorneys, with 31% of respondents pointing to this variable as a priority in workplaces.
Brown, who is pursuing international human rights law, said that opportunities for intentional training are important to him in selecting a future employer. He said that he is looking for jobs that teach valuable “inter and intrapersonal” skills and those necessary to help his career path.
Wriston said that “as a young attorney, mentorship and guidance are very important because the style of work of a practicing attorney is different from a law student.”
She noted that she “finds value in learning from those with more experience and [the] capability” of helping her become a successful attorney.
Student loan assistance and other employee benefits were rated highly by Gen Z attorneys too.
Brown said that he lists “wellness programs, tuition reimbursement, or performance bonuses” as personally appealing.
Law.com reporter Dan Roe wrote that some of the conflict between generations may be how “associates and partners are interpreting each others’ actions.”
He noted that in an American Lawyer survey and others, many associates have said that the high number of billable hours accrued while working remotely during the pandemic is proof that flexibility works. For some partners, on the other hand, it’s a commitment issue.
Law.com reported that an Am Law 100 partner wrote in the American Lawyer survey that “[y]oung associates are pushing back against the business model, but what they do not understand is that the work is still getting done. It’s just getting done by those above them, to the detriment of the physical and mental well-being of those who don’t have the option of dropping the ball.”
However, not all BigLaw firms are sticking to traditional structures. For example, Law.com reported that one reason DLA Piper avoids taking attendance is that remote and inter-office work was common at the global law firm even pre-pandemic.
And the firm makes accommodations for employees facing “extenuating circumstances,” DLA Piper Americas chair Frank Ryan told Law.com.
“There are really effective lawyers who need to work remote because they have reasons why they can’t be in the office two or three days a week,” he said. “There’s an inclusiveness element we have found very effective.”
Staying up to date on issues impacting the legal profession is vital to your success. Subscribe here to get the Commission’s weekly news delivered to your inbox.