Ed O’Connell, MD of Professional Services at Search, discusses what the legal industry can do to retain and attract the best talent amid a global skills shortage.
The pandemic has had one of the biggest impacts on employment in recent times, with the uncertainty of the last two years causing workers to reconsider their career ventures in what has been called the Great Resignation. With one in five workers globally planning to quit their role in 2022 employers need to ensure their recruitment and retention programmes are maintaining a competitive edge.
Having had a taste of what it feels like to work when and where best suits, coupled with an increase in the number of open job roles versus the availability of candidates, there has been a shift in focus in the job market. Candidates no longer want to be in a role that is unfulfilling, and they are resistant to businesses that don’t have a good value proposition and do not provide them with the best possible career opportunities. It is now more important than ever to make sure these elements are prioritised and that law firms, in particular, are well-positioned.
Legal professionals spend most of their time working in high-pressure environments, often working long anti-social hours and to tight deadlines. A report published earlier this year by the International Bar Association (IBA) revealed that one in five young lawyers were thinking about leaving the profession completely and over half (54%) stated they were ‘somewhat likely’ or ‘highly likely’ to move to a new place of work. With the ability to work flexibly and an increase in living costs driving wages higher and higher, it’s no longer enough to think about salary alone when looking to attract the very best talent.
How can firms best navigate these challenges?
Firstly, and most crucially, employees within the legal sector are heavily focused on career development. I would estimate that for 99.9% of the legal roles we place at Search, there are two key elements that candidates prioritise – one is the quality, variety and complexity of work and the other is a desire to step up and do more.
To retain top talent, you have to give your employees the opportunity to practice law at the highest level they are able. If they are truly career-driven, executing the most complex projects will keep them engaged and motivated. Other benefits are a welcome addition, but retention often lies with the quality and longevity of the work provided. If you are not providing these elements and a more exciting opportunity from another firm comes along, the chances are your employees are going to want to take it.
In addition, company culture must be exceptional. The people who work within your firm need to be engaging and positively different to competitors. It’s also important to differentiate compensation and benefits, and the quality of the opportunity available – increased remuneration and benefits are a short-term retention fix. Recent global research showed 43% of young lawyers globally cite lack of opportunities for growth as one of the main reasons for leaving their role, as well as 35% stating they are looking for a greater variety of work, re-enforcing the point that salary isn’t necessarily the main driving force. If you truly enjoy the work you’re doing, you’re more likely to stay put.
Flexibility, hybrid working, and remote working
Flexibility and hybrid working is a point of consideration, and firms have begun to implement a more forward-thinking approach as to how flexible formats could work. With the world opening up again, firms have embraced the idea of moving employees around to different cities and possibly different countries. These opportunities expand employee experience and add another notch to the career journey. This kind of work is best utilised by firms that embrace digital transformation and invest in the best technologies to ensure their employees can work seamlessly, from anywhere in the world.
But with the increase of hybrid and remote working comes a rising trend in employees becoming less invested and less connected to their places of work than they once were. These employees will be looking for an increased sense of purpose and satisfaction within their roles, as they risk becoming isolated and detached from their company. With this style of working showing no sign of stopping anytime soon, firms must ensure that they remain connected to their employees by properly understanding their needs and encouraging in-person interactions, as this will have an impact on whether they choose to stay.
Whilst the future may be uncertain, firms that ensure they are nurturing the needs of the top talent within their teams and also supporting those that are seeking professional growth and fulfilment, will be the ones that are the most successful.