He enjoyed the job when it was mostly doing research, but when he started having to appear in court a lot, he realized it wasn’t a good fit for him.
“I never really enjoyed being in a place of constant argument all the time,” he said.
So, he decided to open up his own law firm, focusing on start-up law, specifically business formation and intellectual property.
Vitale opened the firm in March, making him among the 21 percent of millennials who have changed jobs within the past year, which is three times more than non-millennials, according to a Gallup poll. (Definitions of millennials vary but generally apply to those born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s.)
Additionally, 60 percent of millennials say they would be open to changing jobs.
To curb that trend of job hopping, some firms are shaking up business as usual.
Bob Newmark, managing partner of Bryan Cave, said the firm has definitely noticed a trend in lawyers changing jobs more frequently for the past 10 to 20 years. That has only increased in recent years, he said.
“We have not really attributed it purely to a millennial phenomenon, but it’s also entirely possible that there are generational trends at play here as well that cause people to explore more jobs over the course of the career,” Newmark said.
Some possible reasons for the trend, he said, could be an increased flow of information that allows lawyers to know more about what’s going on at other firms. Plus, he said, he thinks there was a greater sense of loyalty to firms in previous generations than young lawyers have today.
“Not that people aren’t loyal to their firms, but they view how they connect with a firm differently,” he said.
To combat that at Bryan Cave, Newmark said the firm looks at every new hire as someone who will stay there long-term. Bryan Cave invests in training and works to create opportunities to develop new skills and build relationships, both with clients and with colleagues.
The firm’s office also looks different these days, with its former law library, which fell out of use once attorneys turned to computers for legal research, now a social hangout area complete with a pool table, basketball game and even a bar.
“I don’t think you would have found a space like that inside a law firm, hardly any law firm, a quarter of a century ago,” Newmark said.
Bryan Cave has also responded to different expectations of its younger generation, such as allowing lawyers to work remotely, as long as client data is secure, he said.
At Kansas City-firm Spencer Fane, Managing Partner Pat Whalen said he’s noticed different expectations from millennials as well, such as an increased emphasis on work/life balance.
His firm has worked to meet that desire by reducing the hours young lawyers are expected to work, but allowing them to work additional hours for increased pay.
The firm also offers different pathways to partnership, including for those who may not be picking up as many hours as young lawyers of past generations, but are still working hard.
At Spencer Fane, every incoming associate is viewed as a future partner and provided with mentoring and other resources to make that happen – the firm has a 3-1 partner to associate ratio.
“That’s not something we developed in light of millennials, but we are certainly redoubling our efforts,” he said.
Balance and feedback
Jessica Courtway, 27, an associate at Greensfelder Hemker & Gale, said work/life balance is “huge” for her.
She said she feels her firm respects work/life balance, and has an active associate committee, which is one of the reasons she has stayed.
The camaraderie with her coworkers is another reason, she said. She also feels the firm has made an investment in her since she started as a summer associate.
“It encourages me to make an investment in them,” she said.
Courtway said that’s consistent with research she’s seen indicating that to millennials, it’s not always about money.
Another trend she’s noticed with millennials, including herself, is a desire for feedback.
“We’re sometimes considered the participation trophy generation. Our whole lives people are saying, ‘You’re doing a great job’ and we get a ton of feedback,” she said. “Law firms are not a place where you get a ton of feedback. Attorneys are busy and don’t have time to pat you on the back.”
Greensfelder does offer two formal reviews each year, which Courtway said are nice to touch base. The firm also has a mentorship program, and Courtway said she feels comfortable asking partners at the firm for feedback.
“In the law firm setting millennials are on their own outside of periodic reviews, they have to seek it out as well,” she said of feedback.
Vitale fits into some millennial trends, too, such as an increased emphasis in finding a job that they enjoy and that uses their specific skillset. Millennials, he explained, recognize that it may not just be a few certain skills that make you a great lawyer, but certain skills may make you great at a specific type of practice, like family law.
“I think with millennials, there’s a sense of thinking about what unique things they bring to the table and making sure they’re utilizing those well,” Vitale said.
A louder voice
Vitale and Courtway both said that among their peers, they haven’t noticed an abudance of job hopping. For those who are changing jobs, however, they both suspected the same reason – people took any job they could get when graduating law school, because of a tough economy, even if it wasn’t necessarily the one they wanted.
Lisa Key, assistant dean for career development and student services at the University of Missouri School of Law, said she’s noticed that, too.
“It has become so difficult to get a job right out of law school, students may be accepting positions they would not have accepted had the job market been stronger,” she said.
Key said she’s also noticed that some recent graduates might go into the job market with unrealistic expectations, assuming they will get a job right away and immediately be able to “do what they perceive lawyers do.” Of course, young lawyers often have to put in their time behind the scenes and receive more training before they get to argue a case in court.
Overall, she thinks most millennials work hard and do what it takes to advance their careers.
She isn’t so sure, however, that an emphasis on work/life balance, is entirely unique to the millennial generation of lawyers.
Key, who graduated law school in 1987, said her generation was looking for the same thing, but at the time the baby boomers outnumbered the younger lawyers, and not much changed.
“Millennials now, are passing baby boomers in the marketplace,” she said. “It’s more that they have a louder voice.”