The role of the Millennial lawyers and the recent incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) in law firms are current trending topics. As a 27-year old associate of a law firm based in Guatemala City, every time I read about AI and that global law firms are incorporating AI to their practice, I ask myself, will I be replaced by it (or IT)? In the article “The world's first artificially intelligent lawyer was just hired at a law firm” published by the author Chris Weller in Business Insider, the author sets a good example of this recent trend, the incorporation of IBM´s Ross Software by New York-based law firm Baker and Hostetler LLP to their legal practice, used in the Bankruptcy practice of the law firm. This software is able to answer legal questions in natural language and provides all citations and legal precedents for each answer.
Many prestigious law firms have already adapted this new technology, which is efficient doing legal research in a few minutes, a task that can take lawyers hundreds of billing hours. AI is a very promising tool, which is meant to help firms to simplify lawyer’s work in an efficient way. AI could be a threat to the legal profession, especially for Millennial lawyers who might be considered as a “handicap” to law firms and AI might be a good solution to replace part of the such young manpower of law firms.
Moreover, some younger lawyers lack interest on becoming the future partners of the law firms and are focused on becoming in-house lawyers or migrate to other professional work as investment bankers, or perhaps inventing the new “boom” of social media applications. According to the article “Attracting and Retaining the Millennial Lawyer” published by Christopher Imperiale in Law360 website, it might be necessary to make a few changes in the business model of today’s law firms in order to maintain and develop their next generation of partners. Citing the words of Christopher Imperiale, Millennials are usually stereotyped, as “a generation of whiners who lack a work ethic, need constant praise and hand-holding, tend to be less loyal, and have an over-inflated sense of entitlement”. However, I agree with mister Imperiale’s idea that more than thinking of Millennials fitting into such characteristics, we are a generation with “…entrepreneurial spirit, a collaborative attitude, technological know-how, a keen ability to multitask, and an appreciation of individualism and diversity in the workplace”.
Yet, some international law firms have identified that it is necessary to retain young talent (especially Millennials). Mark A. Cohen indicates in his article “Artificial Intelligence will not replace Lawyers with IQ and EQ” published in Forbes website on March, 2017, that AI will not replace the work and knowledge of any lawyer, especially the sophisticated kind of work that requires human instinct, fine-tuned people skills and that “sixth sense” that some lawyers have. Nevertheless, Mark Cohen states that what really makes the difference between AI and lawyers are the emotional intelligence skills, skills that are not found in all lawyers. However, as a Millennial, I have to deal with reality and the fact that AI is developing rapidly in the legal field and all lawyers will need to adapt to this trend.
Can AI replace personality or the human factor? I truly believe that the services provided by the firm in which I work are different from other law firms because of the people that are part of the team. Our profession is very unique and there is no way that two lawyers will make the same exact work. Our clients work with us because of the lawyers that are part of the law firm and many subjective reasons, including character, accurateness, listening skills, business insights and pure gut feeling, all of which cannot be delivered by any technology or machine. Following Mark Cohen thoughts, it is necessary that lawyers, specially Millennial lawyers, need to develop and improve not only their IQ but their emotional intelligence skills, which are not likely to be reproduced by AI (at least in the near future).
If you are still reading this part of the article and come so far, I have been successful to retain your attention. So let me give you from a Millennial lawyer point of view, some tips I have learned in my personal experience in the law firm I work, to retain your young talents:
1. Encourage teamwork: for sure millennial attorneys prefer to work in teams. We are very sociable, sharing everything of our lives in social media. Facilitate the interaction among the lawyers, they prefer interacting with their colleagues than working strictly on their own.
2. Let the clients know your manpower: We like to feel part of the firm´s success and dealings. All Millennials like exposure and recognition for their merits and achievements. If we are part of a successful transaction or case we want the client and peers to know that we participated in achieving the success. Let people know about it. Don’t be afraid to share the good news and acknowledge the good work. Millennials will certainly appreciate it and be more motivated.
3. Flexibility: We are not attracted by rigid schedules and performing the same work every day. We want a little of flexibility and being able to achieve other personal goals. We are versatile professionals and multitasking, so we want to be constantly engaging in different kind of cases and transactions. Be creative and take a risk on moving associates around in different practice groups (they may surprise you with other points of view), encourage internships with clients or even other cross border law firms, have a balanced work-from-home(-or-coffee shop) policy, leave the Salvatore Ferragamo tie and formal attire at home unless the occasion requires it, invest in technology to make work easier and more efficient, move your firm´s data and systems to the cloud, get rid of dinosaur hardware and software, have Friday’s jeans day, encourage participation and brainstorming, etc. etc. etc. In essence, give us some flexibility and challenges and I assure you we will deliver great results.
4. Let them be your friends: Why are you afraid to become friends with Millennial lawyers? Why should there be a barrier between partners and associates? We Millennials like to become friends with everyone and interact beyond the professional environment. We are not asking to become best friends, we just feel more comfortable working between friends. Be open, enjoy a little, laugh together and work hard together. If we have a bond and a two-way relationship that transcends strictly professional matters, we will certainly commit with what we are doing and be more interested in our work and responsibilities.
5. Encourage them to become partners: Even though if you do not believe it, Millennial lawyers want deep inside to become partners. It is a matter of professional progress and healthy ego. However, if we want to be part of it, we also want to be part of the construction of the law firm. We do not want just to become partners if we are to inherit a law firm that we were not part of its constant development and progress. We want to be heard, get involved and help during our phase as associates. I do not mean that partners need to consult all decisions with associates, but it would be positive if you take in consideration our insight for some of your decisions, especially for those decisions that might affect us. Be audacious and think out of the box. For instance, why not put together a mixed committee composed by partners and associates? Sounds interesting…
Nevertheless, I cannot deny the need of technology in providing legal services. Of course AI can be part of a legal practice but it should never replace the lawyers work in the firm, especially the work of those lawyers that additionally to their high IQ level have emotional intelligence skills. Honestly, I think that the future of law firms depends on retaining and developing the young talent and finding a way to connect the positive characteristics of Millennial lawyers with AI. Just take a leap of faith and be willing to adapt the current law firm model to something more flexible, more open, more collaborative and audacious to get Millennials encouraged and engaged in what they work and how they feel about the profession. However, we all need to work together in order to maintain and improve the legal profession if we all do not want to be replaced by Silicon Valley.
Santiago Granados Balsells