By: Kris Balekian-Hayes
Millennials are often a hot topic of discussion because they are the favorite generation to blame for killing certain industries and trends like dining at restaurant chains, using paper napkins and more. However, that same generation can be credited as the generation responsible for America’s declining divorce rate.
The Pew Research Center defines a millennial as someone born between 1981 and 1996, which means the oldest millennials are in their mid-30s now. This age group will eventually represent the majority of most family law firm’s clients. For that reason, attorneys must understand their preferences, habits, and expectations to better serve these unique clients.
Millennials are cohabitating before marriage
In prior generations, it was frowned upon by the couples’ families to cohabitate before marriage. As time has progressed, so have those parents and more and more couples are cohabitating before marriage. As a result, more couples have mastered cohabitation with their partner before marriage and gone are the days where the “first year of marriage is the hardest”. Additionally, these couples share expenses using separate accounts and very little funds are commingled. Usually, the couple will continue on the path of separate accounts which makes any later separation of funds and assets much easier and affordable.
Also noteworthy is that it is expected that a quarter of the generation will not marry at all. However, most of those couples will acquire property together. For those attorneys that have handled same-sex separations before Obergefell, you will be ahead of the game. Attorneys, financial planners and title companies will have to be diligent to ensure that personal and real property are handled correctly so that in the event of a later split, each person’s interest is protected.
Millennials are marrying later in life
Millennials that choose to marry are doing so later in life, with an average age of 27 for women and 29 for men at the time of their first marriage. Because Millennials are getting married later than previous generations, they are often better-educated. Approximately 40 percent of millennials have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Most have accumulated their own assets before they decide to “tie the knot” or conversely, large sums of student loans. When millennials do marry, they are better prepared and often have a prenup in place to protect each partner’s current assets, as well as protect spouses from shouldering the burden of their partner’s debt in the event of divorce. The days where only the wealthy utilized prenups are long gone. If nothing else, this generation is wiser about money than generations before. Additionally, it is expected that fewer children will be born from Millennial marriages than prior generations.
Technology is key
One of the most notable differences between millennials and other generations is their focus on technology. According to Pew Research, millennials are the leading tech consumers of our time, with more than nine-in-ten millennials owning smartphones and 85 percent having a presence on social media.
To attract millennial clients, it’s important to have a modern web presence with a variety of communication channels available. One in three millennials expects to communicate via text message with their attorney, while one in four expects the option of secure online messaging portals. Millennials want these forms of communication, but don’t expect them to replace more traditional channels like in-person, phone and email.
Also, make sure you are aware of the changing world of discovery as it pertains to electronics. In today’s day and age, a partner’s phone may hold all of their deep dark secrets. With the current movement of Courts to allow discovery of electronic devices and their contents, secrets can be retrieved in minutes. It is imperative to coach your potential clients on these issues so that they can prepare themselves and plan accordingly if a divorce is headed their way.
More resources are developing daily to assist the generation to “decouple” without casualty. Some new sites, such as dtour.life will ultimately replace the Inventory & Appraisement process and allow all assets and liabilities to be loaded online, integrating with the various banks so that a split can be determined swiftly.
Millennials are budget-conscious
Millennials are much more discerning than other generations about what products and services they buy. They are known to save more than previous generations and have a reputation for contributing to their employer-sponsored 401(k) plan at a much higher rate. Because they are cost-conscious, they want to know specific details about what is included before they commit to spending on legal services. By providing clear communication of fees and service expectations, millennials will get a better understanding of the value of legal representation. Also, aesthetics now matter when they once did not. Your office needs to support the representations you have made to the millennial client. Millennials do judge a book by its cover and have no shame in doing so.
Millennials expect a quality product coupled with excellent customer service
Millennials will be more inclined to hire representation that is collaborative and is willing to join their team. This can be easily established by using a client portal to share important legal documents or by keeping communication open with the client well in advance of deadlines to discuss strategy and options. What matters most to millennials is that their lawyer is willing to include them in the process. Millennials also expect the convenience of communicating from their keyboard to schedule appointments, pay invoices and get updates online. We as attorneys must adapt to the changes headed our way and have the necessary technology available to support the demands of the Millennials’ busy life.
By the end of this year, the millennial population in the United States alone is expected to reach 73 million with many millennials moving to Texas. This growing demographic will shape the way family law attorneys serve their clients for years to come.
Kris Balekian Hayes has more than 15 years of experience practicing family law. She is licensed to practice law in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Georgia and is a credentialed mediator in all civil, family and CPS matters. Today she serves as managing partner at Balekian Hayes, PLLC based in Dallas, TX.