To stay up on every aspect of mediation, I recently read an article published in the Pace Law Review entitled – Mediation and Millennials:  A Generational Shift in Dispute System Preferences, 39 Pace L. Rev 645 (2019).   

Written by two highly academic and educated Millennial JD’s that probably haven’t practiced in the real world a single day, they posit (admittedly without any research directly on point) that Millennials are less inclined to engage in litigation and strongly prefer to resolve their disputes in a more collaborative process such as mediation.   

In the end, I found myself conducting additional research to try to validate some of their hypotheses, but unable to draw the conclusion that Millennials are likely to eschew litigation to resolve a dispute if they’ve been wronged any more than us Gen-Xers.   

At the same time, there is something eerie about the article and my separate research.  We all know intuitively that each progressing generation is different.  Gen-X talks about how they differ from their parent Baby Boomers.  Millennials definitely talk about how they are different than Boomers.   

This must translate in some way to the generational attitudes about disputes and how to resolve them.  That must translate to at least some differences in the approach to litigation.  The question is whether there is any way to really quantify those differences with something other than feel.   

In any event, in digestible bullet format, this is what the authors hypothesize (followed by some unresearched information from my foray onto Google): 

  • Millennials Are More Likely to Choose Mediation to Resolve Disputes:  Based on the authors anecdotal experiences teaching Millennials about dispute resolution as professors, they observe (in an educational setting), Millennials were willing to compromise their own personal economic position to achieve resolution through a collaborative process.  The challenge I have with this is that these anecdotes revolve around role-play exercises in ADR class exercises.  What would these folks be like when they lost their job and blame a discriminatory former employer for forcing them into a compromised financial position?  Maybe they would really still prefer mediation, but I have to wonder. 
  • Millennials Recoil at the “Straight-Jacketed” Process Litigation Creates:  These were strong words chosen by the authors of the article.  Based on their experiences, Millennials prefer mediation’s lack of judgment and resolution of disputes by dialogue between the parties.  Were it so nice.  I can’t recall the last mediation I handled in which there was a lack of judgment or real genuine dialogue between the parties.   

Interestingly, when I spent time looking generally on the internet, I was able to better put a finger on the intangible feelings I have heard expressed that Millennials are indeed different:  

  • Many Millennials Were Raised With Greater Input:  Not having raised a Millennial, I don’t know, but the Google results seem to suggest that Millennial parents gave them more input about everything – what to eat, where to go on vacation, how they want to dress, than prior generations.  The sense I get from comments on the internet is that prior generations feel this has made Millennials more “entitled” and more likely to see themselves as “equals” with their superiors – in school and in work.  Hence, they are more likely to question authority exercised over them. 
  • Many Millennials are Confrontation Averse:  Yet, in at least some contrast to the idea of questioning authority, the internet labels Millennials as adverse to confrontation – preferring to text rather than have an awkward conversation.  When confronted, there are stories everywhere of Millennials allegedly breaking into tears.   
  • Millennials are Looking for Purpose:  This theory, unlike the other internet “truths” discussed here, appears to be supported by survey evidence.  A significant majority of Millennials believe the purpose of businesses should be improving society rather than generating profit.  An overwhelming majority of Millennials want to use their skills to benefit a cause.  Does this mean they would be more likely to hold on to a fight against someone they saw as a cause? 
  • Millennials are Addicted to Faster Results:  The idea of instant gratification has been around for a long time.  I can remember my parents complaining I expected instant gratification.  The pace of society and computers and commerce have increased since I was a kid.  Perhaps this is why Millennials are often accused of expecting everything to happen right away – promotions, riches, etc.   Maybe, however, it is just older generations looking at younger generations with a hint of nostalgia that they are different.  It has been suggested, then that Millennials will not have the patience for the time it takes to litigate a case and press for a quicker solution.  Whether that is mediating and resolving the case early or not remains to be seen. 
  • Many Millennials Face Financial Uncertainty and Receive Greater Support:  The internet seems to suggest that wages have not kept apace with expenses.  And, while I believe this is accurate, I haven’t spent any time to be able to speak authoritatively.  As a result, one Millennial commented that 30 is the new 18 . . . when developing financial independence from her parents.  This continuing connection has given Millennials (whose parents could afford it) a greater level of comfort and convenience when they might otherwise struggle to pay for a home and student loans.  Additionally, it might account for the perceived ease with which Millennials are willing to leave a position they find unsatisfactory.   

In the end, whether these ideas will produce less litigation is open to debate.   While the alleged conflict aversion of Millennials – if real – could produce less willingness to litigate, the alleged greater perceived equality with superiors, devotion to causes and financial comfort seems more likely to produce disputes that could end up in litigation.