In my last post, I talked about predicting our shifting client base.  Today I’m going to touch on the shifting demographics of our talent pool – lawyers and staff.

I’ve been researching demographic shifts in the US for a client, and came up with some surprising statistics.  For example:

  • For the next 20 years in the US, 10,000 people per day will turn 65.
  • 12 billion boomers own their own company.
  • 70% of them will retire over the next 2 decades.

Of course, the flip side of these retirements is the way the pipeline is filling behind them with boomers, baby busts, millennials, and zoomers.   Most law firm management thought is from the perspective of predominantly managing two “generations” within a firm: boomers and gen Xers.  But today, law firms must be managed around and plan for four generations of talent. And that’s a problem, because those generations are radically different.

Boomers: They were born between 1946 and 1965, making them between the ages of 56 and 75 today.  We know about boomers ad nauseum so I won’t detail them here.  But I will reiterate that they are in the throws of retirement, and expected to transfer between $30 – $70 trillion of wealth when they pass on.

Gen X (Baby Bust): Born between 1966 and 1976 they are currently between the ages of 42 and 56.  This is the “lost” generation, raised with latchkeys and daycare.  They were also shaped heavily by divorce, which may be one of the reasons they are a generation of skeptics.  These are the individuals who most often ask “what’s in it for me?”  They are also the best educated, and tend to be financially conservative.

Gen Y (Millennials): Born between 1980 and 1994, they are 27-41 years of age at present.  This is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation.  They are very sophisticated users of technology, and tend to be immune to marketing or brand loyalty as they’ve been pummeled by advertising since the day they were born.  This generation has also participated extraordinarily in household purchase decisions, and many of them learned to use credit at a much earlier age than other generations.

Gen Z (Zoomers): Currently aged 9-26, this group was born between 1995 and 2012.  They are the last predominantly white generation (51%).  They are digital natives: 98% of them own a smartphone.  They have an incredibly strong social barometer that will absolutely impact brands and businesses.  They approach careers from a portfolio perspective – as opposed to with linear career trajectories.  Despite this, they want personal, financial and educational stability.

Imagine having to run a firm in a way that respects and accommodates the different needs of these various generations.  António Guterres (head of the UN) may have an easier job.  These generations have different values, different belief systems, and different processes.  Some of those values are so different, it can cause animosity between generations.  How do you get all of these people safely in the same boat, and rowing together?

I feel like a broken record because these seem to be the cure-all for almost anything the ails a firm but here goes:

  1. Create a firm vision by developing a strategic plan, so everyone knows about and agrees to where the firm is headed. If they don’t agree with that direction, they’ll self-select out of the firm.  Thus, declaring a firm purpose is a great way to galvanize support, and weed out nay-sayers who aren’t going to help you proceed anyway.
  2. Create annual business goals to ensure everyone knows what the short-term plan is. Engage them in this process by having client teams, practice groups, committees and administrative departments generate goals related to their discipline and aligned with the firm’s long-term vision.
  3. Aim for continuous improvement in communication – going both ways. Regularly ask people how they are doing, what’s going well for them, what isn’t, and if they have any suggestions for the firm.  Unlike previously generations, Gens Y and Z don’t believe they need years of experience to offer valid opinions.  If you want them to stick around, listen to them now.
  4. Remember the expression “dress for the job you want”? Well, build the firm for its future team, not its current team.  Right now, that means considering remote work possibilities, improving your technology (including cyber security), and getting much closer, regularly, to your Associates.  An Associate told me recently that a friend of theirs (who recently left their law firm) had had more conversations about their career with recruiters than with their own law firm.  Don’t let that be your firm.  Start to really care….a lot.

These will give you the best chance at maintaining your talent, and building the kind of firm that will last over the next two decades despite upcoming retirements.   But just in case you think that employing these suggestions means that you can rest on your laurels, let’s talk about the next generation.

Gen A (Alphas): This group represents anyone born 2013 to present, so 8 years or younger.  They will be the first generation to be immersed in technology for their entire lives.  Tech will truly be a way of life with them.  It already is, which is why they are nicknamed the glass generation, after what covers most of the devices, they look at all day.  They are expected to be the wealthiest, most educated and technically connected generation to date.   And their spending power will be enormous.  We don’t know what their values will be yet…but we’d be well served to monitor them very closely as they age.

So everyone, go buy flowers or a nice bottle of wine for your HR department.  You’ll want to keep them happy, too.

Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms, lawyers and administrators.  She can be reached at