Members of Generation Z, the latest generation to enter the legal industry workforce, don’t appear to be abandoning the traditional path into Big Law, but express cynicism about certain aspects of firm culture, according to a new survey from legal search firm Major Lindsey & Africa.
The study “Gen-Z: Shaping Tomorrow’s Law Firm Culture,” examines the ambitions and opinions of law students who were born between 1995 and 2000 and expect to graduate in the next two years. It was conducted before the coronavirus crisis, an event that will likely shape students’ attitudes and outlook in the future.
According to the survey, Gen Z are still interested in working for large law firms, at least initially, with 59% of students saying that they would like to join Big Law after graduation. Twenty-one percent said they are looking to join a mid-sized firm, while 11% of Gen Zers plan to join a nonprofit.
When asked about long-term career goals, 31% of respondents said they wanted to go into government or nonprofit work, 30% said they wanted to go in-house, and 23% said they wanted to become partner at a law firm.
Attitudes have shifted a bit from the previous millennial generation, often defined as those born between 1981 and 1996. MLA’s 2019 survey of millennial lawyers found 40% were planning on becoming a partner at their current firm or another firm in 10 years, 18% of millennial respondents said they planned on going in-house, and 10% wanted to pursue government or nonprofit work.
Gen Z recognizes that the Big Law path is the one to go down to establish yourself , but there’s a sense that going in-house or into government offers more stability and work-life balance for a generation that has seen its share of instability, said Nathan Peart, managing director at Major Lindsey & Africa and one of the authors of the study.
“Millennials and Gen Z have seen just one world disaster after another,” said Peart, who added it’s interesting to see in future surveys how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect these generations’ career outlooks.
When it comes to law firm culture, Gen Z harbors some skepticism about the profession’s commitment to issues like gender equity and diversity.
“This generation is a lot about authenticity,” Peart said.
Some 67% of respondents agreed that these is a sexist culture at law firms and 75% of those asked agreed that a gender pay gap exists. While the majority of respondents said that they believe law firms do care about diversity, 62% said they do not believe that law firm social responsibility programs are authentic and valued.
“They felt that it was paying lip service and it wasn’t really, truly an underlying goal,” Peart said.
Despite this, respondents were optimistic when it came to the direction of the profession. When asked if they believed the legal industry was not changing for the better, 79% disagreed.
Compensation remained the top factor for this new generation when it came to evaluating a potential employer, with 30% of respondents ranking compensation and bonus as their first criteria and 33% ranking it second. Twenty-five percent of Gen Z respondents rated formal mentoring and training as their top criteria.
Like their millennial counterparts, Gen Z also valued work-life balance, with 66% calling it “very important” and none saying it was “unimportant.” Parental leave policies, “flexible face time requirements,” and work-from-home policies were also rated as important.
But Gen Z is realistic about the sacrifices that can come along with being an attorney. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they expect to work many nights and weekends.