Navigating a ‘3R’ World: How Resignation, Retirement, & Re-evaluation Are Shaping the Legal Profession
Pre-Covid, the legal profession had been in a state of flux for over a decade, owing to new technologies, client fee sensitivities, the rise of millennial lawyers, and equity, diversity & inclusion initiatives, to name a few. The pandemic accelerated change, forcing lawyers at all levels to take a broader look at their values and goals and employers to tighten their vision and strategy.
Since the pandemic, three ‘R’s have stood out to us for their profound impact on the legal profession: Resignation, Retirement, and Re-evaluation.
Lawyers leave their roles for many reasons (often a combination of): lack of advancement or engagement, high workloads, compensation, work-life balance, strain of the pandemic, amongst others. The Great Resignation created a candidate-driven market, leaving legal employers scrambling to offer raises and incentives to retain lawyers.
Lawyers now seek more from their organization: more flexibility, more acknowledgement and advancement, and more diversity and equity. Reasons for lawyers resigning vary, and law firms and legal departments must develop a tailored approach to keep top legal talent.
It is crucial for legal employers to evaluate their strategy, needs and re-envision their work structures to maintain engaged teams. Improving retention includes ensuring clear and consistent communication, providing targeted information and advice, and cultivating a working environment where lawyers feel appreciated and part of a team.
More than ever, we’re seeing lawyers retiring earlier. Talent shortages and increased work pressure required senior lawyers to take on junior level work due to lack of associate support. In addition, the pandemic gave rise to partners reconsidering life goals. Partners, who previously said they wanted to work well past traditional retirement age and spend their last days in the office, are now retiring in their 60s and even late 50s.
Before Covid, work was often viewed as a way of finding meaning in life. The pandemic challenged the norm, forcing lawyers to reassess their circumstances, re-connect with their personal and professional values, and consider alternative paths. As a result, some senior lawyers are taking the Great Resignation as an opportunity to start their retirement early.
Contrary to popular belief, retirement doesn’t necessarily constitute permanently leaving the work force, as many retirees often return to work in some form. We have been approached by senior lawyers asking about non-equity partnership and counsel type roles, as well as part-time work. For legal employers looking to alleviate workloads, alternative work arrangements can improve retention and prevent unnecessary loss of senior lawyers in the first place.
As legal recruitment experts, we describe career progression in four phases (further information can be found in our in our Guide to Going In-House).
- Educational: The lawyer joins a new company, faces a steep learning curve, and finds their work challenging and exciting.
- Engagement: The lawyer has had some time to adjust and are feeling confident in their role.
- Cruising: The lawyer feels they’ve hit a plateau. While not unhappy, their mind starts to wander, questioning if the grass is greener elsewhere.
- Disengagement: The lawyer feels frustrated and unhappy, and they’re seeing negatives that didn’t bother them before. They may be headed for burnout.
The pandemic forced lawyers to spend more time on career planning, and many realized they were in the Cruising and Disengagement phases, perhaps for several years. Pandemic life and changing expectations of what makes a ‘good’ job has profoundly affected lawyers’ view of their work. The dispersed workforce also brought to light ongoing issues such as flexibility and mental health challenges.
Our 2022 In-House Compensation & Career Survey found a near 10% decrease in work-life balance compared to the 2020 pre-Covid score. Most respondents expressed a decline in mental health and wellbeing due to the pandemic. For the first time, the legal profession uniformly acknowledged mental health. To retain top talent, it’s crucial for law firms and legal departments to take an integrated view of compensation, job satisfaction, and work-life balance.
Successful legal recruitment requires employers to be adaptive and proactive towards changing market trends. Concerns have been raised about another ‘R’, Recession, on the horizon (stay tuned for more insight). Based on market current activity and a potential recession, we anticipate the war for legal talent, particularly strong lawyers, will occur across Canada. We suggest law firms and legal departments bolster both their retention and recruitment efforts as the legal talent shortage continues.
If you are thinking about making your next great hire or have lingering questions regarding your career, please reach out to one of our legal recruitment consultants for a confidential discussion. The Counsel Network is widely recognized as one of the top legal recruiting firms in Canada and knowledge leaders in the legal talent space.
Dal Bhathal is a Managing Partner at The Counsel Network, a Canadian legal recruitment firm specializing in legal talent management strategies covering all levels of lawyers and practices for both corporate legal departments and law firms. To discuss recruitment and retention programs, contact Dal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416.364.6654/604.643.1708.
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