Some might refer to the law industry as “traditional.” I prefer the term “antiquated.”
Stringent hierarchies, a focus on “paying dues,” limited career paths, and the dangling of future rewards in return for years of unfulfilling grunt work are all staples of the legal industry; all are holdovers from a bygone error that included smoking in the office and Mad Man cocktail lunches.
And in response to these outdated industry practices, Millennials are choosing to take their talents elsewhere.
The fact that Millennials are leaving the industry is not a head scratcher. Millennials have made it clear they want to feel valued at work. They want their work to be impactful and meaningful. And they want to feel that they are growing and learning as professionals. And law firms miss the mark on all of those career characteristics.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. Progressive firms are using mentorship programs as powerful tools to re-engage their young talent, increase Millennial job satisfaction, and increase their retention rates of young staff.
If your firm is feeling the Millennial woes, mentorship programs may be the solution you have been looking for.
The Science is In, Real Mentorship Programs Work
Mentorship. It isn’t flashy, it isn’t trendy, and it isn’t very Instagramable.
But it is the most sought after workplace perk for Millennials and law firms almost universally do not offer it.
Reflect on your own workplace for a second: how often do you have scheduled time for associates to work with, learn from, and be mentored by partners?
Likely, not often, if at all.
Forget about the clickbait headlines you have read about Millennials. The truth is Millennials crave interaction with senior staff. They are eager to learn. They want to feel they are directly contributing and playing an important role in the firm’s success. And they want to develop their professional skills.
Mentorship programs fulfill all of these needs. Firms that use mentorship and coaching programs find that their Millennials have “…better retention, increased job satisfaction, fewer mistakes, and more rapid acculturation…” when they participate in these programs.
These programs are known by many names — development Initiatives and advisor programs being two — and there are a variety of ways they can be structured. But they all aim to connect young talent with senior staff in a structured way that allows all generations to ask questions, transfer knowledge, and improve each other as professionals
So what do these programs look like in action? Below are a few ways firms are integrating mentorship in their workplace culture.
Traditional mentoring is essentially the apprenticeship model that has been used throughout human history.
Young talent at your firm is teamed up with senior staff to work on projects together and allow the mentee to see how work at higher levels is done.
Your young talent sees firsthand how a senior partner thinks and problem solves, they experience the daily challenges a partner faces, how partners grow the business, the way they deal with clients, and they work on projects that are more substantial than the ones an associate may be tasked to do on their own.
These programs are simple in theory, but execution can be challenging for those who have never created an effective mentorship program before. Busy schedules make it difficult for participants to stick with the program. Consistently tracking and measuring progress can be difficult without proper tools and procedures in place. And without any way for the program to gain real traction, results often end up disappointing or nonexistent.
At launchbox, we know these challenges well, allowing us to design programs that specifically avoid these shortfalls from the start. Making sure both parties understand program expectations, setting aside formally scheduled times for the program, and helping to fully-integrate the program into the workplace culture have yielded powerful results for our clients.
Mentoring networks are version 2.0 of traditional mentoring.
To create a mentorship network, you take the traditional 1-on-1 mentorship model and expand it to a diverse network of peers and mentors that a single associate can reach out to. An ecosystem is created that is integrated into the culture of the firm where associates have a network of contacts that they can contact for advice, support, and guidance.
Platforms like LinkedIn, Google Groups, and Slack have made these networks exponentially more powerful. Facilitated by program leaders, mentees can form important professional networks with senior partners across a single firm or industry at large, regardless of their physical locations and increasingly less dependent on time availability.
Studies show that adding additional mentors increases the benefits young talents reap from mentorship. With multiple mentors, mentees experience greater career satisfaction, higher retention rates, and far greater career prospects than those placed in a traditional mentorship model. They also receive more well-rounded mentorship, including both “psychosocial” and career support from multiple perspectives.
The problem for most firms is that executing these ecosystems is difficult.
Mentoring programs span an entire network of people, increasing their complexity and requiring full integration in your firm’s company culture.
At launchbox, we have seen the difficulties firms face that come to us with a mentoring network program they have implemented on their own without the right infrastructure in place. The results are underwhelming.
But firms whose programs we have helped design and execute have seen the power programs like mentoring networks have not just for their young talent, but their senior staff as well.
Reverse Mentorship Programs
Thanks in part to the constant headlines about Millennials being ill-prepared, self-entitled, and whiny, you wouldn’t think that a Millennial associate would have much to offer an experienced partner.
But they do. If partners are willing to listen.
Reverse mentorship programs flip the traditional model of mentorship on its head. Associates are given the opportunity to teach and mentor partners in the latest theories in law, cutting edge digital tools, and platforms to help improve client and staff experiences alike, and generally catch them up on the last 20 years.
And more often than not, partners enjoy these opportunities as much as their younger colleagues. They get a real kick out of connecting with younger talent in the firm and learning how younger generations approach their work.
To see the potential impact a reverse mentorship can have on a firm, look no further than Marin County Bar Association Barristers “Reverse Mentoring” program that was recently awarded an Affiliate Star of the Quarter. It is a perfect example of a program that was well thought out, structured, and executed.
Whether or not they want to admit it, law firms are at a fork in the road. Down one path, firms maintain the status quo and watch as young, energetic, highly educated talent continues to walk out of the door.
Firms need to join progressive industries like technology and begin to listen to the wants and needs of the younger generation.
The old way is easier, but leaves the future of the profession less certain. Embracing a new approach to mentorship takes thought and effort, but leaves hope for the industry to evolve and survive.
It is now up individual firms and industry leaders to decide which route to take.
Interested in implementing one of the programs mentioned above? Contact us at 858.314.9867 or email@example.com.