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How to position your firm in today’s quest for young lawyers

Hariolf 2

How to position your firm in today’s quest for young lawyers?

Talent + Team + Technology

Today’s successful law firms are all about talent, team, and technology. We live in times of scarce human resources, at least as the EU and in particular, Germany are concerned: too little supply (i.e. people) meets a growing demand in many industries, especially services industries. In the legal business, high entry barriers in general, e.g. bar exams, are topped with requirements of premium employers like excellent grades, additional academic qualifications etc. This leads to a market for legal professionals where virtually all top law firms fish in the same, small pond of talent.

All top law firms fish in the same, small pond of talent.

What we have seen over the last ten or so years is that all predictions were wrong. Or better: All predictions were right apart from the timeline. The billable hour is everything but dead, defined associate tracks and strong business cases are still the gold standards to get to equity partner status, hierarchy, and too much work are still in place.

Yet beneath the surface, there are the undercurrents of digitization, GenZ, work-life balance, and the gig economy transforming the way legal work is performed, delivered, and consumed. Legal Operations and Legal Technology are on the rise, shifting legal advice from a paper-based academic discipline to a digitized and client-focused service. Blurred lines between office and work-from-home lead to a hybrid concept of collaboration, communication, and attire. Teams, Zoom, Slack, and Miro help us to visualize, annotate, like, and share easily and in real-time, within the firm and with clients across organizational boundaries.

GenZ lawyers expect a responsive IT infrastructure

So how do employers attract young lawyers given these circumstances? First and foremost, as it is still a people’s business: talent is key. Great people want to work with great people, and talent attracts talent. But other than in the old times, talent itself is not enough. A team is a necessary counterpart: great people want to work with, not only next to great people. They ask for purpose, feedback, explanation, training, honing skills, team events, respect for individual preferences and a diverse, sociable atmosphere. But even firms with great talents and an inspiring team spirit miss the point if they don’t emphasize the third success factor: technology. GenZ lawyers grew up digitally native to then embark on paper-based law studies with books and (hand-)written exams. When entering the legal profession thereafter, a fully digitized setup with laptops, at least two screens, databases and smartphones is a prerequisite. Beyond this, professionalized operations, smooth onboarding, digital internal workflows and a responsive (IT) infrastructure is what they expect. Plus communication and collaboration with clients on eye level, both on a personal level and regarding the use of technology.

So if a firm understands the power of combining talent + team + technology, a culture of appreciating the individual, inclusive togetherness and a smart and digital working environment emerges. And how does this come to life? If you listen to the next generation, let them take the helm of projects, help them engage with clients early and learn from their habits, communication skills and expectations. So it’s no secret, yet its success lies within its execution.

[1] Hariolf Wenzler is Director of Bucerius Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession CEO and CEO of YPOG, a fast growing law firm serving clients in tech-related industries, many of them investors. He is a co-author of Exzellenz, Leistung, Sinn – Was High Potentials“ anzieht“, in: Matthias Busold (ed.): War for Talents, Erfolgsfaktoren im Kampf um die Besten, 2. Auflage, Springer Gabler 2019 (co-authored with Meinhard Weizmann).

Mr. Wenzler’s article is part of a larger report on the work-life balance and the war for talent in legal teams. Download the full report here.

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