Let’s face it: Millennials are fascinating. For those of us who grew up passing notes in high school instead of trading texts, sharing our innermost thoughts with only our close friends instead of posting them on the internet for the world to see, and only getting a trophy if we actually won, understanding Millennials is difficult. But you better get to know them because Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation and already comprise over one-third of the jurors who show up for jury duty. Therefore, learning how to effectively communicate with Millennials is becoming increasingly important.
Who Are the Millennials?
Generally, Millennials are those born from the early 1980s to around 2000 (current ages 16-36). They are the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. Millennials are the children of Baby Boomers and are generally characterized by one term: narcissistic. They are on track to become the most educated generation and have a strong sense of self-entitlement, imparted by their overprotective and over-involved “helicopter parents.” Millennials are team-oriented, confident, impatient, and effective multitaskers. They are accustomed to having a large amount of information at their fingertips and sifting through it quickly to find answers.
The Pew Research Center published two comprehensive reports1 on Millennials’ behaviors, values, and opinions, which reveal the following insights that are of particular importance to trial lawyers:
- Millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse than previous generations.
- Millennials are the least overtly religious of all previous generations.
- Millennials are more highly educated than previous generations.
- Millennials are less likely to be married or have children than previous generations were at comparable ages. They are more likely to be living with other family members, such as their parents, than were those in the two previous generations at the same age. They are more tolerant and supportive of nontraditional behaviors regarding marriage and children.
- The Millennial Generation is the first “always connected” generation, and Millennials highlight technology use as the defining characteristic of their generation. They treat their cell phones as appendages, with 83 percent sleeping with their cell phone at their bedside every night. Seventy-five percent of Millennials have profiles on at least one social networking site, 62 percent connect to the internet wirelessly when away from home, 20 percent have posted videos of themselves online, and the typical Millennial sends or receives 20 texts per day. These statistics far surpass prior generations’ technology usage.
- Millennials are underemployed but remain optimistic about their future. They are more likely to switch jobs and careers than previous generations.
- Millennials are significantly more politically and socially liberal than members of other generations.
- Millennials are skeptical of people, with two-thirds saying “you can’t be too careful” when dealing with people.
Communicating With Millennials at Trial
To effectively communicate with Millennials, trial lawyers must keep in mind several key traits that distinguish them from previous generations. First, Millennials define themselves by technology, and thus, trial lawyers must embrace technology. They have grown up in a time when, within hours of an event, news stations have animations, visuals, and graphically created depictions of the event. Millennials expect to the see the same in the courtroom. And many of them can create (or at least believe they can create) such visuals themselves through any number of computer programs or iPhone applications in an instant. Gone are the days where there was a concern that impressive graphics and animations might look too “expensive” or “fancy” and will turn off jurors. Instead, we have come full circle to a place where impressive graphics and animations are expected and necessary for effective juror communication.
Second, Millennials are impatient and have short attention spans. They are used to learning through short bursts of information accompanied by graphical depictions that communicate directly and get to the point quickly. They do not want lengthy, detailed, and unnecessary information. Keep in mind that they grew up in the world of television courtroom dramas such as Law & Order, where a trial commenced about halfway through the show and concluded within 30 minutes. While Law & Order obviously is unrealistic, the point is that Millennials simply will not tolerate mass amounts of irrelevant information. This is the complete opposite of Baby Boomers who – while still expecting top-notch work in the courtroom – will put the work into sorting through information.
Third, Millennials are narcissistic and highly educated. They do not view lawyers or expert witnesses as experts or voices of authority. They are the authorities and want to be the experts. They want to be educated and led to the conclusion, not told the conclusion. While experts still play a critical role at trial, their importance to Millennials is as teachers rather than authority figures. While Baby Boomers tend to trust the word of an expert with the best academic credentials and real-world experience who worked hard to advance just like they did, these attributes are less important to Millennials, who will not “take an expert’s word for it” just because of the expert’s lengthy résumé. Rather, the expert must teach them in a way they will understand, keeping their attention and leading them to the answer, rather than telling them the answer.
Fourth, like Generation Xers, Millennials are visual learners who are used to oral messages being accompanied by and reinforced with visuals. This is how they process and retain information. Therefore, having clean, simple, polished, and professional visuals to accompany messages at trial is critical to reaching Millennials. Further, having multiple visual aids will keep Millennials’ attention and is a way to emphasize messages without unwelcome repetition.
Finally, Millennials are skeptical of people, and lawyers are no exception. Therefore, similar to Generation Xers, the title of “lawyer” does not earn you any amount of respect or trust from Millennials. Again, they do not view anyone but themselves as authorities. Trial lawyers must work hard to earn their respect and trust. This means being yourself, being honest, and not “playing games” with the other side during trial. Many trial lawyers make the mistake of believing that the theatrics that once defined a great trial lawyer will appeal to Millennials because they are entertaining, but don’t underestimate Millennials’ intelligence. While they may find the theatrics entertaining, they are likely to see them for what they are and will only become more skeptical of the lawyer.
Based on their stereotypes as narcissistic, lazy, and self-entitled, lawyers tend to count Millennials out as influential jurors. But don’t. More and more, Millennial jurors are volunteering for the foreperson role. Due to their highly structured childhoods, they tend to be structural leaders rather than opinion leaders, making sure that all jurors have an opportunity to speak and that they follow the law. From the plaintiffs’ perspective, Millennials tend to award significantly higher damages, having grown up hearing dollar figures that seemed outrageous to previous generations. From the defense perspective, Millennials’ skepticism of people can serve a critical role. For instance, they are more likely to question a plaintiff about what conduct or failure to act by that plaintiff may have played a role in the event leading to an injury or lawsuit.
Technology, visual communication, and getting to the point quickly are the keys to effectively communicating with Millennials. Consider this: When was the last time you were on an elevator with a Millennial who wasn’t looking at his or her smartphone even while talking to someone else? Millennials lose focus fast when something does not keep their attention and interest them. To keep them from spending their time in the jury box panicking from the temporary loss of their most important accessory, trial lawyers must have an entertaining, visual presentation that keeps Millennials’ attention. They have neither the patience nor the inclination to watch a story unfold on a chalkboard or flip chart.
Millennials are game-changers who require trial lawyers to rethink how they communicate with jurors. A failure to adjust and adapt and take Millennial jurors into consideration when preparing for trial undoubtedly will result in adverse outcomes as the Millennial juror population continues to rapidly grow.