The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
August 23, 2019

A Shift to Service: Adapting to the Values of the Millennial Generation

A Focus on Service and How Pro Bono Work May Help

In recent years, companies have focused increasingly on social responsibility and volunteerism within the professional sector. It’s no coincidence that this shift comes as the Millennial Generation, those individuals born between approximately 1981 and 1996, has assumed a prominent role within the workplace. According to a 2018 Pew Research Poll, millennials comprise more than one-third of the total labor force, giving them the greatest representation of any generation in the labor market. With projections that millennials will make up 75% of the labor force by 2030, the influence of this generation on the professional world will continue to grow.

The Millennial Generation has unique needs and priorities in the workforce. They value social interactions, the freedom and flexibility to manage their time independently, and employment benefits over large salaries. Millennials demand a sense of purpose in their own work, and that has translated to similar expectations of their employers. A 2016 study surveying millennials employed at large companies found that 64% of millennials would refuse a job from a company that does not have strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices, and 75% would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company. 

Not only can companies with strong CSR programs more effectively recruit millennial employees, but they also can better retain them. According to the same study, 83% of millennial employees said they would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues. Additionally, 88% said they would find their jobs more fulfilling if provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues.

The business world is starting to reflect this shifting paradigm of corporate responsibility of importance to millennials. Larry Fink, CEO of investment management corporation BlackRock, highlighted the millennial generation’s need for purpose in recruiting and retaining young professionals, as well as a shift in the value corporations place on social impact as opposed to profit. Similarly, Simon Zinger, General Counsel at Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), wrote an essay that outlines the importance for business leaders to pursue social change as well as bottom-line results.  Zinger wrote, “Leading for Change is essentially the use of leadership skills to pursue and achieve positive change across some of the most essential pillars of a modern and humane society.” 

Zinger himself has taken an active role in transforming the culture of his company, by aligning the legal department’s pro bono program with DAN’s CSR goals. DAN’s legal department created a pro bono program that engaged not only the department but also other business units of the corporation to tackle an access to justice issue: improving awareness of legal rights and sources of pro bono assistance. Miri Miller, Associate General Counsel and global pro bono program lead at DAN, credited much of the success of the integrated relationship to Zinger’s passion for pro bono work and commitment to impacting social change. In addition, Miller made special note of the enthusiasm she discovered when inquiring with non-legal department staff about collaborating on pro bono matters.

As seen at DAN, support for access to justice programs goes beyond just the legal profession. Evidence suggests that the general population supports equal access to civil justice under the law. In a 2017 report, the organization Voices for Civil Justice found that 84% of voters believe it is important for our democracy to ensure that everyone has access to the civil justice system. This finding indicates that support for access to justice goes beyond partisan ties. James Sandman, the President of the Legal Services Corporation, also urged that “it is important to remember that access to justice is not a partisan issue” in a 2016 end-of-year message.

As leaders look for ways to engage employees, including millennials, in a systemic and meaningful way, efforts to increase access to justice should be well received by legal and non-legal professionals alike. Evidence suggests that millennials have a deep interest in access to justice. The 2017 Millennial Impact Report, a study intended to capture and comprehend the generation’s cause engagement, reported that “Millennials are showing significantly increased interest in causes that impact minority, marginalized, or disenfranchised groups or people. Further, the report found that “Millennials are most interested in causes that promote equity, equality and opportunity.” By its very nature, pro bono work aims to assist poor and disadvantaged groups in their access to justice. Based on their core values and ideals, millennial attorneys and their colleagues may be drawn to pro bono legal services given the opportunity to work towards equal access to justice for marginalized groups.

As the influence of the Millennial Generation continues to promote the ideals of purpose and responsibility within the workplace, companies must adapt to accommodate this shift in values. Millennials seek to support those companies who share this sense of social conscience by patronizing them with their business and serving as dedicated and loyal employees. The integration of CSR and pro bono programs demonstrates a firm, and long-term, commitment to serving the needs of society. Given millennials’ heightened desire to help poor and marginalized groups, this generation will likely put great emphasis on these pro bono opportunities.

Such a relationship should ultimately prove beneficial for all parties involved. For companies, the collaboration allows them to take a more in-depth and systemic approach in addressing social justice issues they are concerned with, as well as help to facilitate a stronger sense of company-wide commitment to a mission or cause. For legal departments, collaboration with the company as a whole provides much-needed resources and support to fulfill pro bono program goals. With strong social responsibility programs being of critical importance to millennial workers, providing more opportunities for employees to get involved in relevant issues can help keep millennial employees satisfied and loyal. 

Corporate leaders, however, must be willing to undertake such systemic and impactful changes. While the notion of success may be changing, effectively engaging the Millennial Generation will be key to the survival of any company, firm, or organization in the years ahead.

Hat tip to PBI intern Drew Sovel for drafting this blog.