The legal profession has always placed high demands upon those who wish to enter it. Historically, lawyers who made it through the arduous training, would tend to pursue a career in the profession for the remainder of their working life.

The last few years, however, have witnessed a seismic shift in this behaviour, with a recent report by the International Bar Association suggesting that up to 3,000 qualified lawyers under the age of 40 plan to leave the profession within the next five years. This implies that over the coming years, there will be a significant shortfall in experienced talent available to fill senior and Partner positions as staff currently occupying those roles wish to slow down or retire. In order to attract and retain legal talent in a challenging recruitment landscape, it is essential that firms understand and act upon the needs and motivations of those in the profession.

The IBA study reported that prominent reasons as to why so many wish to leave the profession include a poor work-life balance, mental health issues, lack of career progression opportunities and toxic workplace cultures. It is important to address each of these issues in turn, to ensure that any recruitment strategy addresses them head-on. From a retention perspective, internal HR processes must keep firms accountable to their personnel to minimise attrition at all levels within the practice.

Work-life balance

The Covid pandemic proved just how much work could be delivered remotely by making effective use of technology. Shackling talented lawyers to a particular location restricts their ability to enjoy their free time, whilst pressuring them with untenable deadlines creates a feeling of entrapment, coercing them into overtime in the office instead of spending precious time at home with their families.

Mental health

A poor work-life balance exacerbates - and creates - mental health issues. Stressed and overworked staff begin to experience feelings of guilt that they are neglecting their families, compounded by the fear that they aren't performing at work. This can engender a sense of failure in all aspects of their lives. Many, erroneously, believe that the only way to address this is to change careers.

Career progression

Without a clear internal career path for progression within a law firm, staff are far less likely to ever achieve a senior or Partner position in the firm that employed them at the start of their career. This means that the firm's investment in training and developing them is ultimately wasted. It is far more cost-effective in the longer term to invest in staff and to support them in developing their career within your organisation than to see the investment and intellectual capital poached by a rival firm.

Workplace culture

A toxic workplace culture will fuel staff attrition more than any other factor. Once a reputation for a poor culture emerges in today's all-pervasive digital landscape, it is hard to overcome and is likely to compromise any new recruitment drives.

Attracting talent in a competitive marketplace

In order to attract and retain loyal, dedicated and talented senior staff in 2023, firms would be wise to look internally. Reward your experienced performers with opportunities for career progression. This not only motivates the team but ensures that your firm's leadership remain fully invested in your culture and methodology.

This focus, in combination with a competitive remuneration structure and the option for remote or hybrid working patterns will also generate a desire amongst potential candidates to work for your firm rather than the competition. You will build a reputation as being a fair employer and your leadership team, Partners and senior staff will remain fully committed to representing the firm in a positive light, both internally and externally. 


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