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How to retain legal talent in 2022

Three people sitting in office chairs talking

Anthony Seale, CEO, on tackling burnout and creating a sense of purpose

The break in routine, distance, and disruption of the Covid pandemic has meant many legal professionals have had time to reconsider what’s important to them – even going as far as questioning why they are lawyers.

Connecting with that purpose again and thinking about the original reasons they wanted to be lawyers is going to be top of the agenda for many in 2022.

‘The Great Resignation’

Inevitably, some of the people questioning their roles decided to leave – not just their firms, but the profession. The numbers are stark: according to research by Leopard Solutions, reported by the FT, 46% more associates departed London-based law firms between December 2020 and 2021 than were hired from other firms.

Part of it is driven by huge demand for legal services throughout the pandemic. However companies reacted to COVID – for example, buying and selling property – the pandemic increased demand for legal services. Lawyers, particularly junior lawyers, have been working extremely long hours to try to meet this demand.

More people began to express a feeling that I had when I became a lawyer: am I connecting with the reasons I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place? I expected to be conducting legal analyses and understanding the commercial motives for a transaction – things that excited me at law school – but the reality for a junior lawyer was that there was a huge amount of administrative work, and I was using very little of my technical skills.

Something needs to change

People generally need a reason to do their jobs. Historically, when lawyers have been dissatisfied with working conditions, the solution was to throw more money at them. Good lawyers certainly need to be rewarded. But money only motivates people so far, and there are many law firms willing to pay good money. Money can compel people to work, but it can’t make work feel meaningful or create a real connection with clients.

In the short term, if people continue to just throw money at the problem, we’re likely to see a price war over increasingly unhappy lawyers. And in the long term, we’ll see burnout amongst the unhappy lawyers, and clients who feel that their lawyers don’t fundamentally care about them or the work they’re doing.

Restoring a sense of purpose

Even six years ago, when I was a lawyer, decreasing numbers of junior lawyers aspired to the traditional path of becoming partners. People were starting to care more about the experience they were gaining and what they were learning, as well as how they were being treated in their job.

Things like recognition from managers and flexible hours mattered more to many than a marginal pay increase on an already high salary. But there were also many conversations I had with other junior lawyers about the quality of work they were receiving and whether they felt they had a meaningful role in the legal transaction they were working on.

Senior lawyers have a dilemma: they want to give interesting and meaningful work to junior lawyers, but there is a significant amount of grunt work that needs to be done. Lawyers need not only great working conditions, but also the meaningful work that makes them want to be there in the first place.

An opportunity in disguise

The disparity between the current reality of the job for junior lawyers and the reasons they became lawyers provides an opportunity: how can firms innovate so that they can improve lawyers’ experiences and therefore retain their best talent?

This is where technology provides a great opportunity. Technology like Legatics can transform legal transactions, provide a better deal experience for all parties, and free lawyers from unnecessary administrative tasks.

The best lawyers are the ones who love what they do and connect with the commercial purpose of their clients – but if in day-to-day life they’re stuck completing enormous administrative tasks or sitting on long coordination calls, they’re not going to feel that sense of purpose.

Simplify and automate traditional legal processes to improve legacy working methods and increase collaboration, efficiency and transparency. Request a demo today.