Angharad Warren
Angharad Warren

Articles From the Team

The Great Resignation! What can law firms do to retain their lawyers?

After living through the turbulence of a global pandemic over the past 15/16 months, there are growing signs that employees around the world are ready for a change.

Given the demands that life as a lawyer places on you, it’s not surprising that the Covid-19 effect has been particularly prominent in the legal market which explains why we are increasingly hearing from our lawyer candidates that they have reassessed their priorities and come to the conclusion that there is more to life than work and that they are looking for a change.

Lawyers make quite a few compromises in their personal lives for a successful career, the job is rarely a 9-5pm endeavour, it generally demands long hours which can mean missed bed times, dinner dates and even holidays at times.  Even in pre-pandemic times, one of the main drivers behind any job search was to find a better work life balance (as clichéd as that sounds!) and the focus on that has only increased in recent times.  And the job doesn’t just entail long hours, there is always a degree of stress involved in dealing with important business or personal matters, add that on top of the requirement to record 1500+ hours a year and it’s no wonder that so many lawyers leave the profession even in ‘normal’ times.

In the US, a record 4 million employees quit their jobs in April and research shows more than 40 per cent of the global workforce (38% of the UK workforce) is thinking about resigning at some point this year.  This is in stark contrast to last year when the majority of us were just happy to still have a job!

In terms of the legal profession, perhaps it’s been coming for a while; wages had been fairly stagnant for a good few years, law firms had been demanding more, and offering nothing extra in return and with unpaid overtime being the norm in the profession it rarely got the thanks it deserves.  Advancements in technology over the past 20 years have also meant that as a lawyer you always attached to your work like a dog on an electronic leash; evening, weekends, even during annual leave!

So, what can law firms do to retain their lawyers?

1.    Review salaries upwards; we have already seen significant pay increases from the NQ level upwards this year, so firms seem to recognise that this is needed in order to keep staff happy and retain good lawyers.

2.    Offer rewards.  If your employees consistently work long hours, then a nice bonus will ensure that they remain happy and valued.  We regularly hear from disgruntled employees who regularly put in long hours and don’t feel they get any extra reward or recognition for that effort at firms that don’t pay bonuses for cultural reasons.  Research actually shows that smaller and more frequent rewards, can actually keep staff happy for longer than larger less frequent rewards so some Amazon vouchers or a bottle of fizz/box of chocolates/flowers can often be appreciated way beyond their value.

3.    Offer the flexibility to work from home long term; most lawyers enjoy spending some time in the office but don’t want to go back to having to be in the office every day so where it’s possible, allow employees to decide how to best structure their working week.  For some, the preference is still to be in the office every day, junior lawyers in particular seem to have missed the office environment for numerous reasons, for others, working from home has huge advantages around family life and can massively improve productivity.  Proposals are currently being considered by the government to make it illegal for employers to insist on staff attending the workplace for work unless they can demonstrate that it is essential so the shift looks to be here to stay.  There is no one size fits all so don’t be too quick to set a policy that applies to all.

4.    Trust your employees.  If the pandemic has taught managers anything it’s that you can trust your staff!  We’ve heard from so many firms that the shift to home working really worked for them.  This has been surprising for many, at the beginning firms suspected that productivity would drop off a cliff but in fact it soared!  Hopefully this will encourage managers to delegate without micromanaging.

5.    Retain a workplace culture.  This is particularly important if a good chunk of your workforce is spending most of their working week from home.  Organise work lunches, after work drinks, socials and really celebrate success (both personal and team accomplishments).  Also plan non-work related activities designed to build relationships; rock climbing, Escape Rooms, Ghetto Golf, karaoke, races, spa days, cocktail making etc are all great options.

6.    Set clear goals.  Ensure that your team members knows what their progression path looks like and what they need to achieve in order to move on to the next stepping stone of their career.

7.    Be transparent and honest with your team and make employees a part of the bigger picture.  It has been encouraging to see how many firms have consulted their staff about the flexibility they want from their firms in respect of home/office working moving forward.

8.    Encourage a real work-life balance.  Firms can no longer count on offering a good salary, generous benefits package and access to the best quality work – millennials in particular want it all!  Work should be a part of our lives – not the sum of it.  As managers, try to set the tone and log off at a reasonable time or at least try to refrain from emailing your team late into the evenings.  There have been some great examples of employers going above and beyond to reward workers for their efforts during the pandemic including Aviva giving all of its 16000 UK employees an extra day off this year to help boost their wellbeing and Bumble, the dating app group, giving its staff a week off to recharge. The HubSpot US software group is also planning a Global Week of Rest for its workers from July 5 and certain government bodies offer staff 1 hour a week to focus on their own wellbeing.

9.    Always say thank you!  I was given this advice early on in my career and it always stuck with me.  This simple recognition of a job well done goes a long way.

10. Recruit – don’t allow your lawyers to become burnt out due to staff shortages and unmanageable workloads.   

The key message here is that you need to keep your workers happy.

It feels as though we could be on the verge of a fundamental power shift between workers and bosses, which for the legal profession probably isn’t a bad thing!

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