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Millennials now biggest group of lawyers

02 November 2017 - By Geoff Adlam

Defining generations is a popular game. Everyone should at least be aware of the most common tags which have evolved to provide a handy way of explaining the often-baffling actions of other generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (or “Millennials” which we’ll stick to as it’s a more interesting tag).

The boundaries are not strictly defined – starting and ending dates vary, but there seems to be a rough consensus that Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, Generation X from 1965 to the end of the 70s, and the Millennials in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ll go with these.

The attributes handed to each generation are also rather broad, but some of the most common – with a focus on workplace behaviour:

Pre-Baby Boomers: Sometimes called the “Silent Generation”.

Baby Boomers: Rejection or redefinition of traditional values, expected the world to improve, a special generation which has grown up with that knowledge.

Generation X: Independent, resourceful self-managing, hard-working and with a strong work ethic. Sometimes called the “latchkey generation” or “MTV generation”.

Millennials: A preference for a flat corporate culture, work-life balance and social consciousness. Negatively seen as “Generation Me”.

Looking at 12,822 New Zealand-based lawyers at 10 October 2017, the biggest group is now Millennials – who make up 38% of all lawyers. Not far behind is Generation X (37%) and then we go back to the Baby Boomers who now comprise just under a quarter of all lawyers, and pre-Baby Boomers barely registering.

There are some distinct differences between the generations when it comes to the type of legal practice. Baby Boomers are the largest group of barristers (46%). Generation X dominates with in-house lawyers, however (48%). Visit a sole practitioner and there's a pretty good chance they will have been born before the mid-1960s.

While making partner or becoming a director is definitely not a goal for every lawyer, it’s reflective of the power to make decisions in law firms. Prepare for a surprise if you think the Baby Boomers still dominate. Looking at the 8,600-odd lawyers who work in law firms with more than a single lawyer, just over 50% of the partners and directors are from Generation X – even though they contribute just 33% of all lawyers working in multi-lawyer firms. Baby Boomers are next, contributing 36% … and a long way back to the Millennials (12%). Of course, experience and time in practice are traditionally important criteria for moving into partnership … for the moment. Has there been a quiet revolution with the focused and resourceful Generation Xers taking over and just getting on with things?

Sole practices with just one lawyer are still dominated by Baby Boomers, who make up 60% of all sole practitioners.

The major changes in gender makeup of the legal profession over the last three decades are also reflected in the generational breakdown. Nearly half – 47% - of all women lawyers are Millennials. And just 13% are Baby Boomers – compared to 34% of male lawyers.

All New Zealand-based lawyers, 10 October 2017
GenerationAll LawyersBarristers

In-house Lawyers

Lawyers in firmsPartners & DirectorsSole Practice
Pre-Baby boomer1.8%3.3%0.3%2.0%1.6%4.1%
Baby boomer23.9%46.2%12.6%24.1%36.1%60.4%
Generation X36.8%39.3%47.7%32.7%50.4%29.3%
Millennial37.6%11.2%39.4%41.2%11.9%6.2%
By Gender, 10 October 2017
GenerationFemaleMale
Pre-Baby boomer0.2%3.4%
Baby boomer13.3%34.3%
Generation X39.3%34.2%
Millennial47.3%28.1%

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Last updated on the 2nd November 2017