How to retain your lawyers in the "Great Resignation" era

How to retain your lawyers in the "Great Resignation" era

There are very few companies, industries or even countries that remain untouched by the phenomenon deemed ‘The Great Resignation’. The term was coined to describe the record numbers of people leaving their jobs as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic: in the US, four million employees quit their jobs in April 2021 alone and we have seen similar patterns in the UK workforce and beyond.

There are a number of factors driving this dramatic shift in the hiring landscape. Firstly, after a challenging two years, more people than ever before are burnt out and shifting their priorities from live-to-work to work-to-live. This is just as true in the legal sector, where the hours are long and the pressure to be ‘always on’ is high.

Secondly, ways of working have fundamentally changed. The average employee is seeking a hybrid work model, hoping to combine remote work with face-to-face interaction. Those businesses looking to mandate in-office working are likely to face an uphill battle.

Finally, in many industries, employees have more options available to them than ever before. This is certainly true in the UK legal sector, where competition for talent is hot and salaries are being driven upwards by US firms looking to hire UK teams.

There were an average of 191 legal jobs advertised per month in London in the first three months of 2022, according to Robert Walters (up from 185 in 2021 and 29 in 2020), and a number of Magic Circle law firms have recently announced salary increases for newly qualified lawyers.

While the recruitment market will inevitably plateau at some point, in the meantime firms are taking a range of steps to retain their existing talent and attract new blood.

New remuneration models

With lawyers in high demand, some firms are shaking up their remuneration models to ensure they can secure talent at every level of the business.

While the traditional “lockstep” model of pay is still in place at a number of leading law firms – Slaughter and May being the most well-known – this salary model seems likely to soon become the exception, as many firms embrace more competitive commission structures.

In a new LexisNexis report on organic growth in the legal industry, 44% of large law firms we spoke to said that they have already moved away from the lockstep structure, while 60% of small firms have done the same.

Download LexisNexis's The Laws of Organic Growth report for free

Instead, they have embraced flexible approaches to remuneration, including:

  • soft and hard targets, based on factors including marketing and business development efforts (including referral bonuses)
  • paying fixed monthly salaries as a high proportion of annual profit shares (rather than awarding significant bonuses)
  • granting PLC shares to newly-hired partners.

Embracing flexible working

Although professional services industries have, on the whole, stuck more stridently to traditional methods of working, employers are being forced to stay flexible for the sake of employee satisfaction. Magic Circle law firms Freshfields, Clifford Chance and Linklaters have all allowed their lawyers to work away from their desks for up to 50% of the time, while Slaughter and May has allowed its lawyers to work remotely for 40% of the time (20% for juniors).

Some firms, such as Kingsley Napley, were already offering flexible and part-time working before the pandemic. Now, it recommends that people come into the office for 40-60% of their pro rata hours but this policy operates on a trust basis.

Others, like Hill Dickinson, continue to champion in-office working for training, learning by osmosis, firm culture, and many other benefits, but remain flexible for the timebeing.

Boosting learning & development

According to our recent organic growth report, the majority of firms see internal development as central to overall growth. With that in mind, they are working to encourage movement throughout the firm or, where the lockstep structure is still in place, to push people up more quickly.

Kingsley Napley has implemented a full professional training and development programme, giving each team a generous training budget, delivering feedback and developing team members.

Other firms, such as Taylor Wessing and Arc Pensions, have even adapted their path to partnerships in a bid to attract and retain the right people. “The fact we can point to promotions to partnership in our short history is a serious draw”, says Rosalind Connor, Managing Partner of Arc Pensions.

Nurturing a strong culture

‘Culture’ can be a woolly term but many firms name it as one of the most vital factors in their talent strategy.

Connor says that culture is the most important part of attracting staff. “We aim to be a place people want to work, but also to attract people who would want to work here”, she says. “There is no point attracting people in with a particular gimmick, only to find that they aren’t actually attracted to the fundamentals of the firm, but were swayed by something transient.”

Kingsley Napley, too, names its strong culture as key to its appeal to both existing members of the firm and potential recruits. “We were the leading London law firm for the fourth year running in the Best Companies to Work for Survey 2021 and feedback from this process consistently suggests Kingsley Napley's collegiate and people-based culture plays a large part in that success”, says Managing Partner Linda Woolley. ”In addition, Kingsley Napley has an impressive record when it comes to D&I and that is a powerful differentiator in today’s marketplace.”

Ultimately, sky-high financial offers can only take you so far: you have to consider your firm as a complete package, including its culture, location, flexible offering and clients.

Find out more talent management and growth tips here.

Related Articles:
Latest Articles:
About the author:
Dylan is the Content Lead at LexisNexis UK. Prior to writing about law, he covered topics including business, technology, retail, talent management and advertising.