Record numbers of workers have quit their jobs, fueled in part by their desire for better work-life balance, burnout or limited growth opportunities. How can employers in the legal field stem attrition? Learn essential strategies to enhance your recruitment, engagement and retention of legal professionals in today’s workplace.
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Welcome to The Legal Report from Robert Half, where industry-leading experts discuss current hiring and practice management issues impacting the legal profession. Robert Half is a premiere provider of talent solutions for the legal field. The Legal Report from Robert Half is here, on the Legal Talk Network.
Jamy Sullivan: Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s program. I’m Jamy Sullivan, executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half and the host of our show.
With me today is Randi Weitzman, executive director of technology, marketing and legal talent solutions for permanent placements at Robert Half. In this role, she develops and oversees programs that enable the company’s permanent placement teams across North America and helps our teams connect employers with highly skilled technology, marketing and legal professionals. Since joining Robert Half 23 years ago, Randi has held various leadership positions where she provided strategic talent solutions to companies, created and executed strategies to grow business and improve employee retention. Randi has been a colleague of mine for several years and I’m delighted to welcome her to the show. And Randi, congratulations on your 23rd work anniversary.
Randi Weitzman: Well, thank you, Jamy. What a great way to celebrate my anniversary, having a chat with you. It’s great to be here.
Jamy Sullivan: Great to have you. Today, our goal is to examine the impact of what’s been labeled and I’m using my air quotes ‘Great Resignation.’ Really an economic trend that began in 2021 during which record numbers of workers have been resigning from their jobs due in large part to workplace changes and business realities prompted by the pandemic. This phenomenon has affected virtually every aspect of the labor market, and the legal field has certainly not been immune.
Today, we will discuss why employees are leaving their positions, how legal managers can recognize signs of employee discontent, and also address some of the factors that can lead to job satisfaction. We’ll also explore essential strategies that can help enhance recruitment, engagement, and more importantly, the retention of employees in today’s legal workplace. Randi, the Great Resignation, which I said started in early 2021, continues today. Tell me, how has the legal profession been impacted by employee turnover during the past several months?
Randi Weitzman: Jamy, that’s a great question, and I’ve got some great data to share with you. Since 2021, we’ve seen retention decrease while attorney turnover has risen. Now, according to the 2022 report on the State of the Legal Market by Georgetown Law and Thomson Reuters Institute, retention has decreased while attorney turnover has increased. The report actually cited law firm associate turnover reached 23.2% through November 2021, and AMLAW Law Firm’s turnover rate was essentially 23% through November of 2021.
The ABA also reports similar turnover rates. Pre-pandemic average annual associate attrition is actually 16% compared to 27% in 2021. Research conducted from our 2023 salary guide indicates that there is still a high demand for legal professionals in today’s hiring environment. Leaders in the legal field recognize the challenge of employee turnover and potentially has a serious negative impact of attrition on their organizations responding to this challenge has definitely become a top priority for many organizations.
Jamy Sullivan: Well, thank you, Randi. It’s extremely helpful to help start our conversation to hear all of that data. Before we can talk about how to address concerns regarding attrition, it’s obviously important we first understand the, why employees are leaving their jobs? What are factors or changes in the workplace that may be driving them to resign?
Randi Weitzman: Great question, Jamy. Here’s the deal. The global pandemic was a significant driver of a Great Resignation.
Changing work practices, remote work, concern for health and safety, and feeling undervalued or underappreciated in the workplace. These are just some of the main issues that have caused legal professionals to shift attitudes toward their jobs and expectations of the workplace and even their personal and professional priorities. I would say additionally, many legal professionals are experiencing burnout, while others feel that they’re just not being compensated for their increased workloads.
Jamy Sullivan: Randi, can we take this a step further, and can you give some examples of how legal professionals expectations and their priorities have changed since the pandemic began? And really what’s top of mind for them today?
Randi Weitzman: Yeah, Jamy, the key priorities for legal professionals today are desire for work life balance. Many employees feel valued by their managers and their organizational leaders when they’re recognized. They show empathy and they’re connected to the workplace. Significant expectations are on the employees. They are looking for flexible work options, the opportunity to work both in the office and remotely, and they really want to have meaningful work. Growth opportunities and definitely work within a collaborative work culture. As Richard Branson said, “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
Jamy Sullivan: That’s a very valuable insight there. And the key priorities you shared are definitely similar to what I’ve been hearing as well from legal professionals and our research definitely demonstrates that while compensation is not always a priority, many legal professionals are looking for pay increases to account for all of that hard work that they are putting in.
Randi Weitzman: Yes, that is true, and at the same time, Jamy, many employees are placing higher priority on benefits and perks. Through our research at Robert Half, we’ve collected some different types of benefit and perks that are being valued by employees, such as health insurance, dental insurance, paid time off to include even leave of absence. Other in demand perks, workers want are definitely around flexible work schedules, remote work options, stipends for their home offices, employee discounts, maybe even some paid paternity leave. Beyond work options, a definite want and desire comes from wanting a compressed workweek and permanent part time arrangements.
Jamy Sullivan: Very valuable feedback and survey data from legal employees out there and excellent insights Randi. We have lots more to discuss but first, a quick break.
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Jamy Sullivan: Welcome back to the Legal Report from Robert Half. Before the break, we were discussing the impact of the Great Resignation on the legal field, why record numbers of professionals are leaving their jobs, and the expectations and priorities they have as they seek new work assignments. I’d like to now shift our discussion to the focus on how leaders in the legal field can use this knowledge to proactively stem the tide of employee resignations through enhanced retention and engagement strategies. Randi, to start, what are some red flags that may indicate legal team members are burned out or dissatisfied with their work or even the organization they are currently with?
Randi Weitzman: Jamy, that’s a really good question. As reported in our demand for skilled talent research, one of my favorites, more than one-third of legal professionals are actively searching for a new role or plan to by the end of the year. The main reasons that they are looking for a new job are higher salaries, feelings of burnout, ready for a career change, and more opportunities for advancements. Signs that employee dissatisfaction can include lack of interest in their work, lack of or reduced level of productivity, missing deadlines, decline in work quality, and are easily distracted. We even see increased absences, arriving late or departing early from work would be a red flag and more irritable argumentative.
Those that have a reduced communication, decreased participation in a group or one on one meetings can definitely be signs of employee dissatisfaction.
Jamy Sullivan: All really good points, Randi on red flags that employers should be looking out for. I’d say, the critical follow-up question, what steps should legal leaders take to increase engagement and lessen the risk of dissatisfied employees or to respond to the issue when they see signs of worker discontent?
Randi Weitzman: It’s important to understand that with the considerable transformation of the business landscape we’ve experienced during the last few years, legal leaders should consider a range of strategies to strengthen their employee engagement as well as satisfaction, and it will increase retention. Key strategies to adopt an employee-centric culture, organizational commitment to career advancement growth professional development such as upskilling current skills with their staff that actually serves as a strategic long-term investment and it helps individuals grow professionally, really building a culture of trust and transparency, open communication it really helps demonstrate empathy and human understanding, inclusion and equity.
I am very passionate about recognition and appreciation. When people feel recognized, they actually want to keep doing a really good job. It fosters creativity, the building of ideas and innovation, and free flowing communication. It also will help encourage connection and collaboration among their team members and help to prioritize employee health and wellness.
With many candidates turning down job offers that don’t have remote work options, it’s essential that legal employers recognize that hybrid work is here to stay and highly valued by employees. It can really help you attract and hire strong candidates. Some positions that we anticipate staying remote for the foreseeable future, such as contract managers, in-house counsel, corporate paralegal, law firm associates, litigation support, e-discovery specialist, just to name a few.
Here are some ways to provide appropriate resources to enable legal teams to work remotely secure online access definitely provides some collaborative tools and equipment really helping out with some high-speed internet access. Nobody wants to work and have their computer slow them down. Enhance those technology and administrative support and training tools to help them work at home. They will be highly more efficient.
Jamy Sullivan: Randy, as we have been working now remotely for the last two years, I could agree that all of those are definitely appropriate resources to help enable us, and you’re sharing really helpful strategies for our listeners. In addition, an engaged workforce is consistently cited as a key characteristic in research on the best places to work. Culture and engagement are critical and there’s this saying that a mentor of mine once shared with me “Without culture, you can’t have strategy.” Can you talk about best practices for employee engagement?
Randi Weitzman: Yes, and with employee engagement, you will again increase your retention. Listen, according to the ABA report, practicing law in the pandemic and moving forward, legal workers cited the following as the most important engagement practices such as frequent communication from leaders about activities and goals for the organization. Personal connections by leaders with their teams, having effective mentoring and sponsorship from senior lawyers and regular practice group calls. Regular checking calls from work colleagues doesn’t hurt as well.
Some additional retention strategies while you want to engage your managers, staff members who see their managers are responsive, respectful, and invested in their careers are more likely to remain in their jobs, build on those employee strengths, and cultivate innovative, creative ideas which will help with open and honest feedback.
Jamy Sullivan: All great points, Randi. And if I may, I’d like to add another significant strategy. Legal professionals place high value on meaningful, challenging work. For me personally, it was why I wanted to go to law school and we know that lawyers want to make a positive difference in the world so, it is only natural lawyers want the work that they do to matter, which means it’s critical that legal managers create a sense of meaning and purpose for the work they assign.
Randi Weitzman: Jamy, you’re absolutely right.
And today’s legal leaders also need to recognize that legal professional’s workplace desires are multifaceted. Our research shows that salary remains a key point for many of these legal professionals. Employers must continuously monitor compensation trends to remain competitive. As well, a number of issues beyond compensation may be equally, if not more significant in motivating a worker to join and stay with a legal organization. Many legal professionals are keenly interested in various benefits and perks and other incentives, as I mentioned earlier. But listen to your workers interests in expanded benefit and perk options and adjust the programs and offering if it’s feasible.
Jamy Sullivan: Thank you, Randi. You have talked about a number of actions that legal managers can take to respond to employees personal and professional priorities to strengthen retention. How can hiring managers overall improve their recruitment strategies and boost retention?
Randi Weitzman: Well, here’s the thing, Jamy. Beyond determining if candidates possess the skills, capabilities, legal knowledge, and experience you require, it is essential to gain clear understanding of their goals, their passions, their values, their workplace priorities. Ask specific questions to learn what they feel is important to their preferred work culture and management style. What is their ideal work environment and what characteristics they want in a manager? Do they have the values that align with your organization values? What factors do they believe contribute to the most, to their job satisfaction, and to being motivated about their work?
The more you can learn about candidate’s preferences and expectations, the better you’ll be able to evaluate if their interests and values align with your organization. If they would be a good fit within the organization, or if they would most likely want to remain with the organization for the long term.
Jamy Sullivan: Great points, Randi. And I can truly sense your passion in helping and provide these insights, and they were really connected to the field and to what legal leaders are looking for and what legal employees are looking for. You partner with so many geographies across the U.S. so, as we near the end of today’s program, do you have any final insights to share?
Randi Weitzman: Jamy, I just want to make sure that I share as everyone knows, it’s a very tight labor market, and in order to attract top talent, you have to really be able to position yourself competitively to attract that talent so, I’d like to underscore the importance of investing in training, technology and other resources that enable workers to perform their duties effectively and efficiently. Be honest and give regular feedback. It’s really key to making sure an employee feels valued and know where they stand. Recognize and reward, appreciate your employees, with all of that you know you will increase retention.
Conduct regular employee satisfaction surveys, solicit feedback from your staff on culture, benefits, perks, management style and all the organizational goals that you plan on rolling up as appropriate adjust policies and practices accordingly to optimize your workers’ satisfaction.
Jamy Sullivan: As always, Randi, amazing insights and I really appreciate your partnership and hearing directly from you today, as I’m sure our listeners have as well. But unfortunately, we’ve reached the end of our program.
Special thanks again to you, Randi, for joining me today and sharing your expertise and your valuable knowledge with all of our listeners, and once again, congratulations on 23 years with Robert Half. And before we close, how can our audience contact you and where can they obtain more information?
Randi Weitzman: Well, Jamy, I can’t thank you enough for inviting me to join you today to share what is going on in today’s market. If any of you would like to reach me, feel free to email me at [email protected].
Jamy Sullivan: Thanks again, Randi. And listeners, you can reach me at [email protected].
Thanks to our audience for listening today. If you liked what you heard, please rate us in your favorite podcasting app and follow Robert Half and the Legal Talk Network on Twitter and Facebook, and please visit roberthalf.com for more information and resources, including our latest salary guide and demand for skilled talent research.
Join us again for the next edition of the Legal Report from Robert Half here on the legal talk network. I look forward to our future programs where we will again discuss important trends impacting the legal field and legal careers. Until next time, be well.
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