Managing millennials

It’s not trophies they want, but guidance

Guest Column

Alexandra Reed-Lopez

Alexandra Reed-Lopez is the co-founder and managing partner of Cunningham Lopez. She holds a juris doctor from Rutgers University School of Law and a bachelor of arts from The University of Michigan.

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February 2018

When my partner Aasim Cunningham and I decided to throw caution to the wind and start our own law firm in 2014, it was out of necessity — not choice — that we had to break traditional law firm norms. As two young attorneys starting a law firm in an unknown market, flexibility and open-mindedness were crucial to our growth.

Now, four years, two offices and two additional (millennial) attorneys later, we believe we’ve grown successfully not in spite of our age, but because of it. Here’s how:


As millennials ourselves (for the record, we’re right on the cutoff), we’ve been able to capitalize on our generation’s need for a sense of purpose by building a team around our firm’s mission, vision and values. Multiple studies have concluded that Generation Y values having a sense of purpose in their work over other employee perks, such as a higher salary or retirement contributions. This mentality also explains why millennials prefer to spend money on experiences rather than material objects.

At Cunningham Lopez, the first thing we do when hiring an attorney is to assess the person for an alignment with our mission, our vision and core values. If they don’t share our vision, do not share our core values or do not buy into the company’s mission, no second interview is scheduled. If and when we hire the individual, we constantly reiterate the firm’s purpose every week during our “weekly huddles,” officewide meetings that review each individual’s contribution to the overall group goal.

Guidance & feedback

In addition to using our weekly huddles to reiterate the purpose of our attorneys’ work, we also use them as an opportunity to give guidance, provide feedback and allow our employees time to air their grievances. A recent study by Qualtrics shows that the second-most valued thing millennials seek when starting a new job (second only to sufficient training) is guidance.

We use these meetings to talk about upcoming group and individual goals. For the millennial attorney, this could mean hours billed or new business brought into the firm that week. Whatever the individual goals are, it is important to clearly delineate them and keep them posted as to where they stand. We also talk through obstacles and reasons why they may or may not be hitting their goals.

In addition, these sessions provide an opportunity to give praise, when and where it’s due. Millennials have been dubbed the generation of the “participation trophy,” but instead what they seek is guidance — to know where they stand — and recognition for when their goals have been met.

Perks & work-life balance

The above-mentioned Qualtrics study also found that roughly 80 percent of millennials said that the most important party of a company’s culture is emphasis on personal growth. In addition to our weekly huddles, we have quarterly meetings with our attorneys to discuss their personal goals and how we can integrate them into the firm’s success.

Whether an attorney is passionate about providing pro bono legal services or learning a new area of law, Cunningham Lopez is committed to helping them meet their personal goals. We are willing to foot the bill for them, too. While we can’t compete with Big Law in terms of salary, we believe it is our peripheral perks that keep our millennial attorneys happy.

As both a business owner and a millennial myself, providing work/life balance for myself and my employees sometimes directly conflicts with my business objectives. But according to a 2016 Deloitte study, millennials value work/life balance over other job characteristics.

In the private practice world where weeks of 60+ hours are the norm, it is hard not to want to require our attorneys work 12-hour days and drill them to bill, bill, bill! It is, after all, our bottom line that will take the hit if we are not all productive.

However, we also understand that happy employees are productive employees, which is why we offer unlimited paid time off and why we close early almost every Friday during the summer.

At the end of the day, if an attorney isn’t getting his or her job done, then they haven’t bought into the firm’s mission anyway, so he or she was bound to live up to the millennial stereotype of being a “job hopper” sooner or later.

It’s a risk we’re willing to take to make sure the rest of our millennials show up happy and ready to work week after week.