Struggles In The Legal Sector: Attracting And Retaining Top Talent For Law Firms

Not inaccurately, the legal sector is often viewed as highly competitive and challenging, especially when it comes to the career structure associated with traditional law firms.

But just because someone studies for a law degree doesn’t mean a career in law is what they’ll go for. Even junior associates can end up being drummed out of the profession by a lack of developmental support. The importance of attracting and retaining top talent for law firms can’t be understated.

Four fifths of law students are open to other careers

Research by Legal Cheek has shown that many aren’t pinning all their hopes on careers as solicitors or barristers. The survey of well over 500 law students found that more than 80% of respondents were ‘…open to alternative careers.’

According to the survey results, the most popular career alternatives were business, consultancy, and management with 58% of respondents expressing interest, followed by public sector work at 56%. While this doesn’t mean these people aren’t still considering careers in legal work, attracting and retaining top talent for law firms is imperative going forward.

Attracting top legal talent to your firm

Attracting and retaining top legal talent for law firms might seem incredibly straightforward. Just offer a big salary and some eye-catching perks. But it’s important to consider how effective financial incentives actually are, and whether the perks you’re offering are what employees really want.

The things employees prioritise can often change with the times, as successive generations enter the workplace with their own ideas of what needs to change. With the prevalence of gen Z and millennials in the modern workplace, the huge emphasis being placed on a consistent feedback-based firm culture can’t be ignored.

While law firms can be highly stressful work environments, and setting realistic expectations is the key to helping employees grapple with that reality, the perception of firms as a sink-or-swim, trial-by-fire type of place may be very off-putting to otherwise promising legal talent. Regardless of whether they’re law students interning, or full-blown junior associates, a certain amount of continued learning is inescapable for those looking to progress up your firm’s career track.

Then there’s flexible work to consider. Recruiting pools were once strictly limited by geographical location and a very rigid set of workplace obligations. But with flexible work, especially remote work, playing such a key role in the “new normal,” these sorts of positions will likely continue to be implemented across different sectors including law firms to at least some degree. And given that Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report 2020 found that 98% of surveyed remote workers want to continue working remotely in at least some capacity, it’s fair to say that flexibility can do just as much to retain talent as it can to attract it. Speaking of which…

Retaining top legal talent in your firm

As shown by Aon’s research, legal workers are suffering in terms of employee engagement. Getting promising new hires through the door is one thing, but much like keeping a romantic relationship going after some solid initial dates, the real challenge of attracting and retaining top legal talent is making sure they stick around in the long run. If you’ve ever had someone who seemed driven and enthusiastic in the interview process, but dropped out a few months down the line, it’s very likely that the reality working in your firm wasn’t quite what they imagined. As we previously mentioned, this is why it’s vital to set realistic expectations from the get-go.

There’s no denying how stressful it can be to work in law. A mistake could end up costing your client their literal freedom, or at the very least, quite a lot of money. It’s important to help manage this stress by prioritising wellbeing within your firm. In particular, this means opening up the dialogue around mental health in your firm, which is a conversation that must be led by managing partners.

Retaining talent is also a matter of addressing toxic elements of workplace culture, such as presenteeism and the perception of stress as a sign of weakness. Then there’s the issue of gender diversity to consider. According to the American Bar Association, women leave the legal sector at higher rates than men despite approaching the ‘…height of their careers.’ In 2017, they made up just 23% of partners and 19% of equity partners.

Finally, we can’t stress enough just how beneficial mentorships can be for retaining talent. Workplace mentorships have been found to not just be beneficial to the education of mentees, but to the career prospects of their mentors as well. Mentorship goes beyond simple critical feedback. It boosts loyalty and acts as a source of advice born from personal experience that can help junior associates navigate the pitfalls of law firm culture while supporting diversity.

This article was submitted to be published by Weekly10 as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Conveyancer. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Conveyancer.

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