Millennial Attorney Survey Highlights Firm Culture Criticism and Gender Imbalance

Millennial Attorney Survey Highlights Firm Culture Criticism and Gender Imbalance

Legal news and commentary site Above the Law has recently published the findings of its Millennial Attorney Survey 2019, a comprehensive analysis of 1,200 responses from young lawyers. 

The report, titled “New Expectations, Evolving Beliefs And Shifting Career Goals,” has shed new light on millennials’ criticism of traditional law film cultures and compensation structures.

So, what were some of the major points of the report?

Career Goals and Priorities

In the long term, the goal that guides most respondents along their career path continues to be the prospect of reaching partner. The second most popular goal amongst men involves an in-house counsel position, while women are more likely to aspire to opportunities in the non-profit and government sectors. A third of the survey’s male respondents aspire to partnership, whereas only a quarter of female respondents want to achieve the same thing.  

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Graph by GENLEX based on Above the Law data

A collective 30.2 percent of respondents (identified as “Other” in the graph) indicated that in ten years they hoped to be working at a boutique/small firm (9.8 percent), government/non-profit (12.3 percent), legal academia (12.3 percent), or no longer practicing law (1.7 percent).

The survey’s 2017 edition found that 34.8 percent of respondents hoped to become partners at their firms, compared to only 30 percent in 2019. In spite of this declining aspiration, 21 percent of respondents want to stay with their current firms for another five to seven years, compared to 14.1 percent in 2017.

A healthy work-life balance is the main priority for both men and women, though women value this aspect more when assessing their firms or looking for new opportunities. About three out of four millennial attorneys would happily trade a percentage of their compensation for more free time or flexible hours.

Among the young professionals looking to switch firms, 28.8 percent are unhappy with compensation, and 21.9 percent are dissatisfied with their firm’s management or culture.

A staggering 75 percent of respondents said they were either open to new opportunities or actively looking for a new position. Notwithstanding, 70 percent described themselves as loyal to their current firms.

Law Firm Culture and Gender Gap

Millennials feel that they may largely dislike the culture at their firms, but they still covet a partnership, no matter how traditional or purportedly unfair the system might be.

Over half of respondents believe the current business model of law firms is “fundamentally broken,” while 62.1 percent among them think millennials are helping improve their policies and cultures. 

When it comes to the glass ceiling, there is clearly a disconnect between the experience of women and that of men. Only 14 percent of male respondents believe law film culture is sexist, while 45 percent of female respondents agree that it is, indeed, sexist, based on their own experiences. Among women, 56 percent agree that men with the same job descriptions are making more money than them, while only 18 percent of men believe this gender pay gap exists.


The survey found an interesting correlation between perceived transparency and loyalty: individuals who characterized their firms as “very transparent” were 20 percent more likely to consider themselves either moderately or highly loyal to them.  

Perceived level of transparency regarding how partnerships are awarded

Perceived level of transparency
Graph by GENLEX based on Above the Law data

Women appear to value transparency more, as 40.2 percent of female respondents said they considered it a very important aspect of law firms, compared to only 35.9 percent of men.


Although becoming a partner meant a lot more to the previous generations, millennials still aspire to partnership more often than to other potential achievements in the legal profession.

According to Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Ru Bhatt, managing director for the architects of the survey,  “There’s no question that this generation operates differently than their predecessors, and the law firms that are best situated for future growth are the ones that are open to changing the status quo.” Bhatt also believes law firms need to address millennials’ concerns, lest they become less competitive for attracting top talent among them. 

Undoubtedly, our generation needs change, but we appear to still be playing the game the way it’s always been. One aspect that appears especially troublesome is the gender difference. Though one would think assessments of the pay gap and the glass ceiling for women might be more in sync among millennials, the disparity between the opinions of men and women in this respect clearly indicates that there is a long road ahead towards equality.

In fact, 63 percent of women are convinced that diversity and inclusion should be a priority for law firms, compared to a meager 37 percent of men. 

Our generation has spoken. We want more work-life balance, more transparency, more equality, and an openness to review old and potentially obsolete law firm cultures, and more chances to grow based on our performance, loyalty, and commitment. We are an optimistic generation, but the recent survey clearly shows that traditional firms need to pay heed to our expectations and concerns if they want to continue to attract top millennial talent. 

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GenLex Staff
GenLex is an online magazine geared towards encouraging and inspiring the next generation of world-class attorneys. This publication aims to supply young lawyers with early career guidance, insight into the profession, early publishing experience, and an opportunity to network. The GenLex staff is comprised of new and seasoned lawyers as well as others in the legal field.