Attracting and Retaining Tomorrow’s Talent Today


This blog post comes to you from Quito, Ecuador, in South America. Quito is the country’s capital city. Situated in the Andes Mountains at an elevation of 9,350 feet, it is the highest capital city in the world (although there is some debate on this). Quito is a big city in every sense of the word. According to the 2014 census Quito has a population of 2,671,191. By comparison, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2013 population of Minneapolis to be around 400,070. Quito has big city problems like bad traffic, pollution, competition for scarce resources, technological imbalance, and workplace transition. Side note: for instance, getting this blog post sent up to the MSBA was met with some difficulty because of the sporadic nature of the tech grid in and around Quito.

While visiting Ecuador and looking into the northern central Andes Mountains I couldn’t help but think that Quito is experiencing the same multi-generational and technological shifts that we are experiencing in the USA. Standing in Independence Square (Plaza de la Independencia, or commonly the Plaza Grande), I saw two police officers talking. Plaza Grande is like going to the White House, except you can sit on the steps of the Ecuadorian President’s office.

Okay, so back to the policia. One police officer was about 30. The other police officer looked closer to 60. They were both taking a peek at the younger officer’s mobile phone. As they both pointed to the little glowing screen, the older officer jokingly threw his hands in the air signifying affable disgust and walked away.

The age of workers in Quito is dropping and younger Millennial aged workers are beginning to dominate the workplace. The same is happening in the USA. The presence of technology is also becoming more and more dominant in the daily lives of people here in Ecuador and in the USA. The concept of omnipresence via technology is more advanced in the USA, although I’m not so sure this is something we should wear as a badge of honor (more on this in a later post).

I must admit that I am fond of consumer behavior and organizational psychology. For others, this genre of topics might be akin to watching paint dry. Naturally, I am drawn to the pendulum that swings back and forth for every passing generation that enters and leaves the workplace. The legal employment field is no different that any other field in this regard.


Since I entered the professional workforce in 2003, I’ve heard that my generation was going to be the bulk of the workplace by 2020. The Pew Research Center, found out using Census Bureau data from 2015, that 53.5 million U.S. workers are aged 18 to 34, which is the Millennial generation. This is now the biggest group in the workforce. The Gen Xers are now sitting firmly in second place at 52.7 million workers.

It’s worth noting that in 2015 the Millennial generation is projected to become the nation’s largest living generation. This is a huge change and could mark the passing of the torch in the workplace and our communities.


Millennials are broadly defined as anyone living in 2015 between the ages of 18 to 34. This post does not go into the good or bad characteristics of this generation. There’s been a good deal of stereotyping for this current generation of Millennial lawyers and it hasn’t always been nice. I do recall some similar mudslinging going on when the Gen Xers were coming up in the 1990’s. In the end, it was really much ado about nothing. I think the same conclusion will develop for the Millennials.

This post does go into what we can do to attract and more importantly retain Millennials in our small and solo firms. The retention part is the most important. There is a good book, “The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today”, which came out in 2010, that helps answer our poignant question. How do we attract and retain tomorrow’s talent today?

It is in every law firm’s best interest to learn how to attract, retain, and motivate Millennials. My concern for our industry is that if we don’t embrace the Millennials in our law firms, we may soon pay a price we cannot absorb.


Small firms can attract and retain great workers, owners, and employees by using a decision-making matrix that focuses on these three things: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. From all the articles and research I’ve read over the years, I think it boils down to those three.

Our workplaces must offer the opportunity to develop these three areas. This will be a change to the traditional vertical workplace models we’ve known for a long time. Hybrid horizontal workplaces will become more common and I hope the results will be happier clients, workers, and a better bottom line.

I am not saying that small firms need to go the route of Zappos holacracy; however, a version of it could work. You may have heard the news about Zappos ditching its hierarchy, titles, and management team concept. Zappos has called this “holacracy”. Hundreds of people have left the company preferring to skip holacracy. Many more people stayed though. This is a great empowerment move to promote self-management and drive. In this horizontal workforce model, I believe the fertile grounds for mastery, autonomy, and purpose are being cultivated. We can encourage our Millennials to act upon and practice executing a concept called intrapreneurship by greenlighting project work for them to create within our firms. They want to produce work on their own terms and have the work match their values. Is this surprising though? When the Baby Boom generation came of age, they expected the world to meet them on their terms. It should be no shock that the Baby Boomers raised kids with similar expectations.


We can focus on creating environments where there is a little less structure. Schedules can be looked at on the whole, rather than each minute. Unstructured and nonlinear work environments can produce better work products. Side note: for a short, comical, and compelling argument on why work does not happen at work check out Jason Fried’s short talk (ask yourself, where do you really go to get work done? The answer may surprise you).

We can anticipate that Millennials will fully expect to be available to work 24/7. In turn, we can anticipate that Millennials may be at their desks during the 9 to 5 workday and also want to leave the desk and take a walk.

We can focus on building a culture that focuses more on the emotional salary rather than the actual salary. In our job posts, we can focus on what our firm mission, vision, and values are as they are created and shaped by the firm’s leaders.

We can be available and commit to learning from each other. We can talk about what life is like to work at our firms instead of only focusing on what the work is like at our firms, which seems like a given.


A friendly reminder: these are broad and sweeping generalizations about millions of people. Accordingly, there are always exceptions. Overall though, if we can do some of the things described above, then our firms can be better prepared to succeed by partnering with, attracting, and retaining top Millennial talent from anywhere in our flattening global environment.

Although I’ll never know what the Quito police officers were talking about in the Plaza Grande, I did notice that as the older officer walked away he reached down into his pocket and pulled out his mobile phone and chuckled.