In a piece first published by PLC Magazine (Practical Law), Founding Director of Totum Deborah Gray discusses the strategies that law firms should implement in order to combat losing talent in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Time spent away from the office during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many employees reconsidering their work-life boundaries and reflecting on their career options. Many have decided to leave their jobs, and the resulting so-called “Great Resignation” has swept through all sectors. The legal sector has been particularly affected. Retaining talent has been one of their biggest challenges for law firms during the pandemic, even above economic issues. With this trend set to continue in 2022, further employee departures could have a critical impact on productivity and satisfaction levels within departments, compounding the issues that law firms already face.
However, it is essential that law firms go beyond the usual wage rises and other financial incentives in order to retain their employees. Not only are these measures unsustainable, but they do not necessarily lead to lawyers and business support professionals feeling valued. Instead, firms should implement more relevant retention strategies focused on supporting their happiness and well-being.
While there is no shortage of employees actively seeking new opportunities, their reasons for doing so are often not what you might expect. Rather than a bigger salary, many are most interested in embarking on a new challenge. Instead of letting employees grow tired of their current role and seek new opportunities elsewhere, law firms should offer them opportunities to venture into alternative roles internally. For example, the current head of knowledge at Farrer & Co was previously a partner.
Allowing employees to make the jump to alternative areas of the business may require some retraining. However, there are plenty of benefits to this approach. They have already demonstrated their cultural fit and workplace competency and possess the knowledge of the firm’s business and relationships within it in order to hit the ground running. Overall, firms should take a flexible approach to ensure that their lawyers feel that they can apply their specific skill set in a position that is best for them.
The number of women (as well as transgender and non-binary employees) in the UK legal profession falls in the higher levels of seniority, which is often around the age at which people begin to consider having children. This is understandable, as many may feel that they face a choice between career progression and raising a family. No one should feel that they have to choose between their family and career. Establishing family-friendly policies will make this issue less significant and help employees to feel more supported at work.
Simple measures such as offering greater flexibility around when and where parents work, or encouraging to move into less demanding roles during these years, can enable them to focus on their family while retaining their expertise. Similarly, providing subsidised childcare or additional paid leave can reduce any financial burden on the employee. Not only do these measures provide parents with time to bond with their children and support the next generation’s healthy development but they are also linked to better workforce productivity and the ability to retain employees. If firms do not have appropriate policies in place, employees can be left feeling unsupported and are more likely to resign.
Focus on diversity
For the modern professional, diversity and inclusion is no longer a preference, but a requirement. For trainees, new hires and younger professionals, evidence of adequate diversity policies will be an important factor when considering whether to take a job.
All law firms should invest in their diversity strategy to ensure that policies become embedded in their work culture (see Know How “Law firms and diversity: putting inclusion into practice”, www.practicallaw. com/w-028-0714). Change should start from the top by focusing on increasing diversity in leadership positions, which has been shown to improve business results, enhance creativity and increase workplace happiness. However, inclusivity should go beyond recruitment. Some law firms allow employees to take bank holidays off whenever they desire, offering greater flexibility around holidays to respect the cultural differences present in the workplace.
For firms with sufficient funding and resources, like Pinsent Masons, it is possible to employ people in specific diversity-focused roles, such as a diversity inclusion manager, in order to help ensure that treatment of employees is fair and inclusive. Otherwise, these kinds of dedicated diversity roles may be incorporated within the HR department. Employees will be much more likely to join and stay with a firm if they feel that its values align with their own, especially when it comes to diversity.
The pandemic has led to employees accessing new levels of independence when choosing their work styles or work environments, with an increasing number requesting flexible working arrangements following the pandemic (see News brief “Hybrid working after COVID-19: home is where the heart is”, www.practicallaw.com/w-031-0840). Many law firms are encouraging their employees to go into the office for two or three days a week. Here, partners and senior management should lead by example by returning to the office to show their teams that it is safe and beneficial to do so.
However, firms must continue to offer choice. This newfound emphasis on flexibility and convenience has caused a shift in attitudes towards working in the office and, for many, has re-established the importance of strong work-life boundaries. Retention issues within the legal sector will only worsen if employees are asked to work from the office full-time.
It is important that law firms recognise behavioural changes towards the workplace in society at large, and tap into the preferences of their employees, while also considering which hybrid-working policy will be most efficient for their businesses. Flexible working policies must be considered alongside issues like employee well-being and mental health. Not only will this help to ensure higher productivity levels but will reassure employees that their firm is motivated to build a happier and healthier workforce.
Employee benefits are vital to attracting and retaining top talent. Almost all law firms provide private medical insurance, and most offer dental insurance. However, while these sorts of benefits are positive, it is integral that they are implemented alongside specific policies that focus on promoting diversity, encouraging work-life balance, and supporting families.
The pandemic has permanently changed employees relationships with their workplace. Law firms will see more success in retaining their lawyers and business services professionals if they implement changes designed to meet their changing needs, desires, and expectations.