The Great Resignation. The Big Quit. No matter what you call it, almost every employer has heard or even experienced it.
Employees have left their jobs in droves. In one month last year alone, four million Americans left their jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Additionally, from August 2021 to December 2021, over 700,000 employees in the professional and business services category, which includes legal professionals, quit their jobs each month with January 2022’s quit rate at 3.2%. Leopard Solutions, a legal market research company, noted that in 2021 the average associate attrition rate was at 27%, an increate of 61% from before the pandemic.
During the height of the deadly COVID pandemic, many employees including legal professionals, had the time and inclination to re-evaluate aspects of their lives including work.
As employees have left their jobs at the same time companies began hiring to resurrect their operations, the labor market has become increasingly favorable to job seekers and existing employees. With this employees’ job market and companies clamoring to hire, candidates and existing employees now have strong leverage requesting employment terms and conditions more favorable to their wants and needs.
Additionally, the pandemic has prompted more employees and job seekers to make employment decisions beyond compensation. While compensation remains important, candidates and existing employees are requesting more. Some want more work-life balance, some want more meaningful work. For others, it’s better management or better benefits. And for others still, it’s all the above.
As for lawyers, higher compensation and better benefits are not the top drivers of contentment as found by a study from the NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education and legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey and Africa. If compensation and benefits are not the causes for turnover and dissatisfaction, what is the issue? What studies are showing is that the issues are lack of job satisfaction and feeling overworked.
“Perhaps now more than ever, lawyers are unwilling to remain in jobs that make them unhappy,” writes legal columnist Jenna Greene of Reuters. Greene notes that the biggest complaint from lawyers is the “overwhelming workload and accompanying stress.”
This all begs the question: how do law firms address these issues in a profession where its culture has historically been one of overwork and stress? How can firms make attorneys’ jobs more meaningful to create job satisfaction? The answers lie in technology.
Employee Satisfaction and Retention
While the buzz around the Great Resignation in mainstream media has focused on employees quitting, companies, including law firms, need to take notice of existing employees. Bloomberg Law’s Attorney Workload and Hours Survey from September 2021 surveyed 1,554 attorneys on topics related to hours worked and areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with work. The survey reported that one out of 10 lawyers was actively looking for a new job, and 38% said they were open to other job offers should one present itself.
Furthermore, the survey identified overwork and burn out as the key sources of dissatisfaction. Unsatisfied lawyers report working longer hours than those satisfied. Those dissatisfied report feeling burnt out 74% of the time. All attorneys, regardless of satisfaction level or years practicing, report working at least 11 non-billable hours each week.
Retaining talent is and will remain a challenge for law firms. The overwork and burn out, while a previously expected by-product of this profession, are no longer as easily tolerated. Christopher Imperiale writes in Can Law Firms Overcome ‘The Great Resignation,’ “Employees seek meaning in their work over and beyond the rewards of compensation.” Law firms and their leadership must address this dissatisfaction not merely with a yearly holiday party, but with true and deep changes to allow employees to have better work-life balance, and more meaningful work through fewer non-billable hours and repetitive administrative tasks.
Attracting legal professionals starts with employer branding. Employer branding is not just flashy photos on LinkedIn or a glossy brochure touting exciting perks, but truly paying attention to the firm’s culture and reputation. Storytelling on social media of celebrating the latest holiday in your firm is very different from leadership actually walking the talk with the firm’s values and culture.
When considering the firm and its ability to attract and retain talent, questions to ask yourself are: What do lawyers (existing and outside) honestly say about your firm? What is your firm known for with regard to employee behavior and satisfaction? Does your firm have consistently high turnover? Your firm needs to know answers to these questions to better understand how to address employment issues in your firm.
If your firm is known for grinding talent with little work-life balance, it may have an issue attracting and retaining talent in the current job market. However, if your firm is known for innovation that allows for the reduction or automation of repetitive tasks, focus on professional growth and allow for more life balance, legal professionals will be eager to work at your firm.
Addressing the Issues with Technology
The Great Resignation is wake-up call to law firms. The world has changed dramatically over the past two years, including how employees approach work. As such, firm leadership needs to adjust its approach employees.
While the legal industry has long held a reputation of being slow to change, the COVID pandemic has shown otherwise. When the pandemic began and lockdowns went into effect, those in the legal profession wondered how they would cope without immediate access to paper files and paralegals.
Yet, despite operating as usual for many years, lawyers adapted. According to a Martindale-Avvo study, 81% legal professionals started using video conferencing, nearly 19% started using electronic retainer documents and nearly 14% started using cloud-based solutions. Lawyers can adapt when needed, and this war on talent is a time when lawyers need to adapt, too.
There are ways firms can address work dissatisfaction and burnout amongst lawyers. Unrewarding work, overwork and burnout don’t have to plague lawyers. Legal technology has made incredible advancements in the recent years that cut down on non-billable work which frequently troubles lawyers. Spending excessive time on administrative tasks that can be automated reduces overwork for lawyers. Software exists to expedite client intake, organize and manage caseloads, and easily review invoices.
For example, EffortlessLegal’s BillerAssist line of apps allow for real time automated compliance with Outside Counsel Billing Guidelines, fully automated LEDES/UTBMS coding with no manual pulldown or selection menus required, and significant reductions in time and hassle associated with e-billing. These apps do not require any change of billing systems, and instead works with Clio, Rocket Matter, ActionStep, Timeslips, PracticePanther, and many others.
The Great Resignation doesn’t have to hurt your law firm. Identifying reasons for employee dissatisfaction and turnover is critical to avoiding losing key talent and attracting the right talent. For firms who need to address unrewarding work and overwork, legal tech can be part of the solution. Solutions already exist that can easily integrate with your existing software systems. Don’t let your talent leave over something that can be easily addressed with legal technology.