This article was originally published in Corporate Counsel Business Journal.
As the demographics of law continue to skew younger, it’s important to implement efficient tech solutions that reflect the world millennials grew up in.
The demographics of law are changing. While less than one-quarter of lawyers – and only 2 percent of partners – were millennials as of 2016, 75 percent of the full workforce will be millennials by 2025. This is certain to be reflected in legal departments as well. With these inevitable demographic changes taking place, corporate legal departments must evolve in order to keep their employees engaged and satisfied.
The 2019 Millennial Attorney Survey report, published by Major, Lindsey & Africa, found that many younger lawyers are dissatisfied with the status quo. More than half of survey respondents said that they believe the legal industry is fundamentally broken, while 44 percent believe that the current generation of leadership “has outstayed their effectiveness.” Millennials came of age in a world where they had unprecedented access to technology, with many of them carrying the entire internet on smartphones in their pockets as teenagers or young adults. This generation is not likely to abide a workplace environment that doesn’t keep pace with technology.
Sustaining millennial employee engagement
Keeping employees happy is crucial in any industry, but it’s especially important in demanding ones like law, where burnout is extremely common. Corporate legal departments need to anticipate, listen to, and respond to millennials as they demand a different work environment in years to come. In the workplace of the future, the increased use of data, analytics and legal project management will be non-negotiable. Fortunately, advances in legal technology – from e-billing and automation to tools offering data-driven decision-making – can help improve efficiency and empowerment dramatically.
In the case of legal technology, what’s good for employees is also good for the organizations they work for. The same tools that provide legal department staff with streamlined workflows, increased efficiency, and greater confidence in their decisions also improve overall department performance and help legal teams deliver on corporate business goals.
It is important, however, to choose new tech carefully. Millennials, in particular, expect their tech and processes to be consumer-grade, emphasizing ease of use. Their more mature colleagues may be just as digitally savvy, but they are also more likely to have patience for technology that is still clunky. They remember what it was like before these tools were introduced, and therefore they see cumbersome tech as better than nothing. With millennials, however, there is little tolerance or room for technological error.
Take a strategic approach
How should legal departments begin the process of selecting and acquiring technology that will meet the needs of the organization now and into the future? As legal departments increasingly focus on the business, they should do what other corporate departments do: produce a formal plan that includes operations and business goals, then develop a specific technology strategy to achieve those goals. This strategy should consider how tech acquisitions will affect all stakeholders, plus basic business functions like finance, marketing, human resources and information technology, including whether the last two will offer the support needed to make the plan a reality.
Far too often, there is a temptation to simply jump to an easy solution to a particular problem without taking the time to develop a plan and evaluate how the available options would fit into it. But making a one-off technology acquisition without having a broader technology plan is shooting blind. This can result in technology purchases that do not have the ability to adapt to changing legal needs and/or do not integrate well with current or future tech purchases.
A fully baked plan will have both a strategic vision and an understanding of how specific acquisitions fit into it. It will also outline and measure the impact of those acquisitions using relevant key performance indicators. While legal departments, especially smaller ones, are sometimes overlooked by the C-suite, risk management and cost-control measures are both impacted by the work of the corporate legal team and can significantly affect the bottom line.
Improving business results and employee satisfaction
E-billing and matter management, for instance, can streamline workflows, help forecast and analyze legal spend more accurately, and improve visibility into spend and operations. By choosing e-billing and matter management solutions that leverage artificial intelligence technology, legal departments can further increase efficiency and free up attorneys to focus on their most valuable tasks. Thus, these tools should be part of any overall operational cost-control initiative – and millennial team members will expect them to offer excellent usability.
However, easy-to-use solutions will not be enough unless they can also deliver – or integrate with other tools that deliver – on the future needs identified in your strategic technology plan. Millennial users have high standards for technology, and they are unlikely to tolerate having to log in to many separate solutions to complete their work. For example, if the team has identified contract lifecycle management (CLM) as an area where the department should improve automation and efficiency, choose a matter management provider that offers flexible options that integrate CLM.
Corporate legal departments are already undergoing an evolution, and with the right approach, they can ensure that their workforce remains happy over time. The millennials already on staff are a resource that legal departments should leverage. Organizations should take the pulse of these employees, with an eye on the future. Soliciting their input is a great first step toward understanding their expectations and providing everyone with a workplace where technology supports their success and the success of the company, over the long term.