Lawyers are increasingly dissatisfied with their profession, with younger employees in particular driving shifts in workplace culture in which the size of one’s salary is less important than other factors, such as a firms’ ethical commitments or a healthier work-life balance. Amid a tightening race for talent, this is both a challenge and opportunity for firms.
Talent drying up, costs rising
It’s now more than two years since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, but its effects continue to be felt. In particular, although the challenge of employee retention is well-documented (opens a new window), the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ remains a pertinent issue for companies across a broad range of sectors.
The legal sector is no exception. PWC’s Annual Law Firms’ Survey for 2022 highlighted shortage of talent as the number one concern facing law firms – the consequence of several factors, including the shortage of supply, and a greater willingness among employees to move between roles.
As firms compete with increasing aggression to fill their ranks, they must also grapple with dramatic wage inflation.
In May 2022, Clifford Chance became the second ‘magic circle’ law firm to raise pay for newly qualified UK-based lawyers (opens a new window) to £125,000, following in the footsteps of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. This trend is accelerating due to increasing pressure from US-based competitors, whose deep-lined pockets are enabling offers to newly qualified lawyers in the region of £179,000 (opens a new window).
Employee satisfaction? Priceless
But money can’t solve all problems. As per one survey conducted in October 2021 (opens a new window), 90%of lawyers indicated anonymously that there were certain firms they would never join, regardless of pay. In the same survey, more than one third of respondents admitted having considered leaving the profession within the previous 12 months.
This is a growing dilemma for a sector with a poor historical record when it comes to workplace culture. For decades, law firms have been defined by practices that are now widely regarded as ‘toxic’, such as pressure from clients and stakeholders, long working hours, and concerns around bullying, harassment, and mental health.
It is with this in mind that Lockton recently hosted an event exploring the implications of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)’s Workplace Culture Thematic Review (opens a new window), which emphasises the importance of supporting employees as a necessary tool to mitigate against professional incompetence and declining ethical standards.
Covid-19 is one major contributor to these shifting attitudes, having overturned traditional notions of working. But with Gen Z and millennials now making up nearly half (46%) of the full-time workforce (opens a new window), the biggest driver is a shift in demographics.
Both inside and outside the legal sector, these younger employees are placing an increasing emphasis on more rounded workplace incentives, such as an improved work-life balance, health and wellbeing and new choices of employee benefits.
Major international law firms have made changes to their policies to allow working from home which gives staff more flexibility around working hours. Getting rid of a culture of presenteeism can allow lawyers to manage their own schedules (and breaks), and encourages out-of-office social activities. However, a major point of contention is the way performance is measured.
The prevailing approach of “billable hours” puts associates under significant pressure and can result in lawyers working 80 hours/per week. Reducing the billable hours in combination with lower salaries may attract talent that law firms cannot currently. These employees may even be more creative and efficient due to their better work-life balance.
An alternative approach (opens a new window) could be to abolish the billable hours approach and measure outputs instead of inputs. While it may sound revolutionary to some, radically changing the way performance is measured could also create a better work-life balance.
Ethical considerations are also gaining momentum (opens a new window), with employees increasingly demanding proof of their firms’ commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives. Likewise, environmental concerns are moving to the top of the agenda for firms, where expectations are growing in line with ongoing developments in monitoring and reporting technology.
These trends aren’t likely to decline. Rather, with the proportion of Gen Z and Millennials in the workforce set to increase to 72% by 2029 (opens a new window), these issues will dominate firms’ agendas in the coming years.
Benefits the key to addressing staff shortages
As the importance of employee wellbeing becomes more evident, the onus is on firms to be proactive when it comes to investing in workplace culture, and revising benefits packages in accordance with changing needs.
As competition for top talent increases, doing so successfully could give firms a much-needed edge.
Conduct assessments and monitoring to develop a coherent picture of workplace culture, and identify areas and strategies for improvement.
Take steps to identify and end damaging microcultures
Foster an ‘open-door’ policy when it comes to workplace culture, in which employees feel empowered to raise concerns and report issues
Engage with employees on a regular basis to understand desires and needs and shape benefits packages
Deploy benchmarking and analytics to compare benefits packages across sector and ensure competitive products
Implement initiatives to improve workplace inclusivity, such as diversity policies and inclusive benefit programmes
Make sure company ESG credentials are visible and accessible online, supported with relevant data
For further information, please contact:
Lucie Gosling-Myers, Client Development Manager, Lockton People Solutions
T: +44 7721 327 427