Preparing for Generational Change

December 5, 2016

summer associatesThe next decade is going to bring major changes in the workforce as Millennials step up and baby boomers retire, and in-house legal departments are just starting to see those changes. Accommodating this new generation, set to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, is a major concern, as is ensuring that the institutional knowledge of the Baby Boomer generation is not lost. A recent survey from Thomson Reuters, The Generational Shift in Legal Departments, focused on this issue.

A major concern is how legal departments indicate they’re getting ready for these changes. The most alarming survey finding is legal departments’ lack of preparation for this generational shift; overwhelmingly, corporate counsel reported they’re not doing anything to prepare. Even though 25 percent are “very confident” in their department’s preparedness for the generational shift, and 59 percent indicate they’re moderately comfortable with their department’s approach, their confidence belies their departments’ lack of action in this area.

Most problematic is that only 26 percent of corporate legal departments have a succession plan in place. Another issue is that the vast majority of corporate legal departments do not have a formal mentoring program; a mere 6 percent reported having such a program in place.

While some legal departments indicate they’re upgrading technology to prepare for changes, this will not be enough to offset the lack of succession planning and mentorship models. Baby boomers will be taking a wealth of institutional knowledge with them. Identifying which key roles will need to be filled in their absence, and mentoring individuals to prepare them to step in is crucial – and it takes time. Legal departments can’t afford to wait.

Perhaps baby boomers are reluctant to develop and implement succession plans out of a fear of making themselves obsolete. Or it may simply be that succession planning takes a backseat to legal departments’ strategic priorities and evolving business needs. Whatever the reason, the solution is the same: in-house leaders must make succession planning a strategic objective in order to avoid a brain drain as baby boomers move on and take their experience, expertise and business relationships with them.

The good news is that Millennials are eager for mentoring and coaching opportunities for two reasons. First, it’s important for them to feel like they’re leaving their mark on a company; second, they are a generation that thrives on developing relationships. Succession planning and mentorship programs would aid in both of these millennial priorities, as well as address what should be a key concern of in-house leaders: retaining Millennials.

The threat of baby boomers taking their institutional knowledge with them, without passing along their expertise and insight to less-experienced millennial corporate counsel, is a real one. In-house leaders must effectively address this challenge while simultaneously finding the best ways to inspire, motivate and retain Millennials.

Interested in Succession Planning? Join Part 1 of a 3-part Webinar Series, Evaluation of Succession Management Needs on December 14.

View the full report, The Generational Shift in Legal Departments: Working with millennials and avoiding baby boomer brain drain 

Part of the Legal Department 2025 Series