Age and the Millennial legal consumer: Is it a factor when hiring?

Right now, approximately 1 in 4 Americans is dealing with some sort of legal issue. Half of those people are Millennials. Most Millennials face traffic-related offenses, but traffic isn’t the extent of it. Of all the Millennials who’ve had a legal issue in the past two years, 39% report having a real estate, landlord, or tenant issue, 33% a personal injury issue, and 32% a divorce or family issue. That’s a lot of Millennials with legal issues and a lot of Millennials who could need lawyers to help them.

Some lawyers recognize the potential in building a practice entirely or even in part on Millennial legal consumers. But some older attorneys hold back, thinking that Millennials may not be interested in hiring them because of their age. Younger attorneys might be equally hesitant, but because they assume they’re too inexperienced for any Millennial (or maybe any client at all) to trust. But research interviews I’ve conducted recently with Millennial legal consumers indicate that, if you’re an older attorney, your experience may be an asset to the Millennial consumer, and if you’re younger, Millennials may see your energy and drive as incredibly valuable.

Generally speaking, more Millennials than older legal consumers care about their lawyer’s age:

23% of Millennials say that a lawyer’s age matters in hiring, whereas only 10% of those who are older agree.

But this doesn’t mean that Millennials prefer younger lawyers. Nor does it mean they prefer older ones. In fact, it’s less about age than what age might represent: a lawyer’s drive or energy, flexibility, and relatability. And Millennials I’ve interviewed have told me that lawyers of all ages can possess these important traits.

Millennial legal consumers want their lawyer to be “hungry.” They want a lawyer who is driven to work hard for them, to succeed on their behalf and care about what happens to their case – and to them as people. “I’m not afraid of hiring someone younger,” one Millennial said to me; “they may be more motivated if they’re younger.” Millennials realize that hiring a younger attorney means giving up on other things, but they are comfortable with the trade-off: “A young attorney doesn’t have a lot of experience,” said one Millennial, “but they’re willing to fight more.” Other Millennials prefer the other side of that trade-off: “Yes, age matters,” said one Millennial; “someone who’s young doesn’t have much experience.” Another Millennial told me that they wanted a lawyer who had it all, one who was “energetic” and “upbeat” but with enough experience behind them. At what age might a lawyer no longer seem energetic? “When they’re close to retirement,” she said. This all means that most lawyers out there – whether Millennials or in their 50’s – have value to the Millennial legal consumer.

Millennials also want a lawyer who can be flexible or adaptable to the current legal and social climate. They want an attorney who reflects the times, who’s up-to-date on legal trends. For example, one Millennial told me that “older attorneys are experienced, and they know the judges, but they’re less willing to accept change.” And to them, that’s bad. Another said, “I’d prefer a younger lawyer because they’d be more updated in recent changes in law; older ones are set in their ways and too proud to do too much research on their own [meaning research into changes in laws or new ways to tackle cases].”

Age is also a proxy for relatability. An older attorney “wouldn’t relate or have as much compassion,” said one Millennial. “They wouldn’t care too much on a personal level.” Other Millennials told me that no matter what the case, relatability didn’t matter as much as competence and willingness to work hard. “I don’t worry about being judged,” one interviewee said; all that matters to him is getting the help he needs. Some Millennials care about relatability differently depending on the case. For example, one interviewee told me that for a family law issue, he’d want a lawyer who could relate to his experience with divorce. However, for other types of cases, finding a lawyer he could trust would matter more than finding one who could understand his experience.

The bottom line

So maybe Millennials care about age more than others do. And maybe Millennials see age as a proxy for care, drive, energy, expertise, and hard work. But if you can show a Millennial that you have all or most of these traits, then your age may not matter. Younger attorneys can demonstrate that what they lack in years of experience they can make up for in exactly the right kind of experience. Older attorneys can show drive and determination by being responsive and engaged. Ultimately, Millennials want what all legal consumers want: a lawyer who’ll care and have their back. As one Millennial put it, “I don’t care if my lawyer is old or brand new. If they have my best interest in mind, and if they will help me the best, I’ll hire them.”

Want to learn more about the Millennial legal consumer? Download the full report here.