Changes in Marketing Legal Services: Millennials Rise to Positions of Authority

Attention, Baby Boomers! Law firms are beginning to experience a major demographic shift. Millennials (also referred to as Generation Y) may not be as mistrustful of older generations as were Baby Boomers. The latter group, after all, coined the popular 60s-era catchphrase “Don’t trust anybody over 30.” Still, millennials are a distinctive generation, one that has already begun to have a significant impact on the way in which legal services are marketed.

Just Who Are the Millennials?

Even though no official start and end point exists for the millennials, Pew Research,   which is considered to be highly authoritative, defines this generation as adults born between 1981 and 1997 (ages 18-34 in 2015).

Key Generational Traits

It might not be entirely accurate (or, for that matter, politically correct) to paint entire generations with a broad brush. But there are a number of common traits upon which marketers largely appear to agree. Following are a few examples of major ways in which millennials differ from Baby Boomers and preceding generations.

Millennials Are Technophiles

Boomers: Older attorneys are, of course, using a variety of technologies, but often seem to do so grudgingly. They are generally known as “late adopters” of technology. 

Millennials: This is a generation that grew up with technology, especially mobile technology, and they love it and seem to use it constantly. This group uses smartphones for both personal and business matters (including due diligence on law firms). Lines between personal and business use tend to blur, and they expect it to consistently work well – anywhere, and anytime.

It seems like just yesterday, so many Boomers were begging their parents to buy them an HP-35 pocket calculator, capable of performing such sophisticated functions as percentages and square roots…all for a mere $600 in today’s dollars! But we digress…

Millennials Are Team Players

Boomers: Older attorneys are largely used to working independently and being rewarded accordingly, based on individual efforts.  Sometimes they are described as quiet, keeping to themselves…                                                   

Millennials: Millenials are extremely comfortable collaborating and working in teams. Because they are a highly social generation, they tend to solicit input from friends and associates they trust before making major purchases (such as hiring outside counsel). 

Millennials Are Do-Gooders

Boomers: Often prefer (or insist upon) keeping their personal and professional lives separate. Lines between the two are sharply delineated.

Millennials: Believe in living with purpose. The causes they care about often have a major effect on all their purchase decisions. Over 50 percent will purchase services from companies that support values they care about.

See Kevin O’Keefe, “Some Lawyers Blog for SEO, Others Blog To Make a Difference” (Real Lawyers Have Blogs, September 22, 2015); Micah Solomon, “2015 is the Year of the Millennial Customer: 5 Key Traits These 80 Million Consumers Share” (Forbes, Dec. 29, 2014); Gaby Isturiz, “5 Ways that Millennials Are Making the Legal Industry Better for Everyone” (Bellefield blog, June 9, 2014).  Bellefield also notes that 15 percent of the 1.3 million licensed attorneys in the United States are millennials.

The Dilemma: Aging Firm Leadership vs. Younger Clients

While the majority of leadership at Am Law 100 firms remains in the hands of older generations of attorneys, a recent survey found that almost 20 percent of Fortune 100 and 30 percent of Nasdaq general counsel are Gen X members (the generation between Baby Boomers and millennials), compared with fewer than 5 percent of Am Law firm leaders.  See M.P. McQueen, Study: Big Law Leaders Are Much Older Than Clients, (American Lawyer, September 5, 2015).

The age of potential clients is rapidly becoming even younger. The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) found a marked generational shift in the composition of its membership. As of 2014, 60 percent of ACC members were Gen X or Millennials/Gen Y. As recently as 2012, these groups comprised just 51 percent of ACC’s membership ranks. See: Veta T. Richardson, “In-House Forecast For 2015: Past Is Prologue” (Law360, December 14, 2014).

ACC figures show that the average age of in-house counsel is around 44 and falling. As Keith Ecker of the legal marketing consultancy Jaffe very succinctly put it: “It won’t be long until the people who you are tasked to target for business development are savvier with an iPad than a legal pad.” 

Potential Strategies

In light of the above, Jaffe suggests several fundamental changes firms will be required to make in order to successfully target the younger generation:

  • Greater emphasis on technology and willingness to explore innovative ways it can be used to create efficiencies for law firms and their clients.
  • Legal marketing that embraces data analytics and allows concrete numbers and trends to guide marketing strategy.
  • Attorneys will need to begin to blur the division between their personal and professional identities.
  • Law firms will have to invest more time fostering and promoting their unique internal cultures. 

See: Keith Ecker, “Why Law Firms Should Target Millennials Part 1” (Jaffe blog, March 26, 2014).

Parting Thoughts

To attract younger clients, law firms need to be smarter about how they deploy their websites, and especially, social media. Around 96 percent of millennials use social media, and many startups are run by young people who would be desirable clients for law firms. These young entrepreneurs are proficient in developing and using technology, but lack the critical knowledge about regulatory, IP and other issues law firms can provide.

  • Kevin O’Keefe, on his blog Real Lawyers Have Blogs,  noted that Facebook is not only a source millennials turn to for political news, but one they turn to for gathering marketing information. It can be an important additional channel for law firms to use to share insights.
  • The company Good2bSocial conducted a joint study with Above the Law in 2014 of the 50 largest firms in the United States. The study found that law firms are still in the very early stages of deploying social media technologies and practices.
    • The problem was not necessarily a lack of willingness to devote resources, but ineffective use of social media for marketing and PR. Law firm marketers have mainly used social media as yet another channel for press release distribution and to announce awards.

See Guy Alvarez, “How Social Media Has Changed PR and Corporate Communications at Law Firms” (Good2bSocial blog, May 12, 2015).

  • Some law firms have been resistant to jumping on the social media bandwagon, perhaps out of concerns related to advertising ethics rules. There are, fortunately, methods to address these issues which should help satisfy attorneys’ risk-adverse natures: Simon Chester and Daniel Del Gobbo, “How To Create a Law Firm Social Media Policy” (ABA Law Practice, January/February 2012). 

Avoiding social media altogether, if one hopes to reach the younger generation, is a huge mistake. Firms should arguably have a LinkedIn company page, at the very least.

  • Regarding websites, firms should consider adding video to their online sites. Text-only client alerts are, as the kids might say, so last century.

Firms also need to ensure that their mobile sites are optimized, to make a positive impression on potential clients. See Keith Ecker, “#FAIL or #WIN? A Millennial Reviews the State of Legal Marketing (Part 2)” (Jaffe blog, April 23, 2014). 

 By Louis C. Abramovitz, MSLS, MBA, Wilkinson Barker Knauer Library Manager, for the September/October 2015 issue of the Capital Ideas Newsletter.

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