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In this article we discuss the challenge of retaining legal industry staff in the wake of the pandemic and during a candidate shortage. Discover the steps your law firm can take to demonstrate to your employees that they are valued, have purpose and are contributing to organisational goals.

When we talk to HR leaders within the Australian legal industry, they have one thing keeping them up at night. That is, how to retain their most talented employees whilst still attracting talent to their brand. HR leaders are concerned about who might leave, why they might leave and what will have to be done to replace them.

The pandemic gave employees the chance to evaluate their working lives and to explore flexible working conditions. What they want from their employers has subsequently changed and evolved and law firms will have to adapt to keep up. It is no longer enough to just offer the potential or interesting and challenging work with the most impressive clients in an impressive looking office!

Man in white shirt holding a retention strategy folder

Employees leave organisations for various reasons. In our experience, based on conversations with legal industry candidates, the reasons for leaving we hear most regularly are:

  • Not getting along with an immediate manager
  • Not feeling valued
  • Wanting more work-life balance or flexibility
  • Being passed over for career opportunities

Whilst not all reasons for leaving an organisation are controllable, many can be influences with strategic investment and effort. Retaining staff saves you the time and expense of replacing them. It prevents those you have trained and developed leaving to work at competitors. Investment in staff retention strategies have the added benefit of engaging your workforce which both increases productivity and the quality of your output.

Retention Strategies

The following retention strategies are used by many corporations to help them retain staff. Which one will you implement at your firm?

Demonstrate a Compelling EVP – Your employee value proposition (EVP) demonstrates the positive experience of working at your organisation and the benefits an employee can expect to enjoy. This includes monetary and non-monetary benefits. It highlights the best of your company culture, leadership, and your company values. It shows how your organisation helps your clients, the community, and any relevant causes. It may highlight opportunities for transfer or travel. Most of it all, it communicates why your employees like working for your company. This one clear message should be embedded into all brand assets and communications.

Good Communication – The changing nature of the workplace in the legal industry has directed communication challenges at law firms and managers. They have had to figure out how to manage and communicate with teams of people working in far flung places using technology whilst maintaining personal connections to each other and the company. Continuing to learn about and utilize best practice communication methods with your employees and clear messaging helps them feel informed. Offering additional training around communication for managers dealing with hybrid and working from home teams can also be beneficial.

Clear Mission and Purpose – Many employees took stock of their career during the pandemic and asked themselves tough questions about what they wanted out of their career and life. Having a clear company mission and purpose helps employees feel part of something significant. When achievements and milestones occur during this mission, don’t forget to celebrate them!

Pulse Checks – Take regular engagement pulse checks to continuously improve your company culture. This might be via a formal employee opinion survey or a quick poll. Take the time to listen and learn from what your employees are saying.

Value your Employees – Feeling undervalued is one of the primary reasons we hear from candidates as to why they want to leave a role. It doesn’t just relate to salary, even though this is important, it also relates to performance frameworks, feedback conversations and being given credit for effort and results. Salaries are of course also important and in this very candidate short market they need to be competitive and based on current market rates.

Offer Flexibility – Gone are the days where all employees in a legal firm worked from a centralised office, at a set desk, Monday to Friday. The work from home horse has bolted, and employees have proven that working from home generally has a positive impact on productivity. Each employee’s home situation is different, and some will want hybrid arrangements, some will be demanding office-based employment wanting the buzz of the CBD. Others may never want to return to the office on a full-time basis. Firms are having to negotiate working arrangements at an individual level, with many of them considering team-based office days to keep up connection, morale, and team interaction.

Career Development and Training – Can employees see clearly that there are career development opportunities within your organisation? Can they see others being promoted and achieving their goals? Having development plans for staff and ensuring you are aware of their career and even personal goals may prevent them looking towards competitors for this.  Consider including a mentoring program to assist with career planning and navigating career obstacles.

Your employees also need to be offered training programs that are going to build their skills for the future, not just CPD points. These might be technology based, relate to soft skills or add to their area of legal expertise. Investing in their training is an excellent way to help them feel valued.

Offer Wellbeing and Mental Health Programs – Looking after your employees as individuals means that programs offering support in the areas of wellbeing and mental health have become expected. The legal profession has a constant struggle in dealing with mental health challenges and doing what you can to support this will help keep staff in the industry and your organisation for the longer term.

Offer Best Practice Parental Leave – Offering above and beyond what you are required to for both maternity and paternity leave ensures you retain employees looking to start a family and safeguards these staff you have already trained returning to you. We often see candidates comparing parental leave policies when they have multiple offers – so this is something that is particularly attractive to young and mid-career lawyers.

Have Organisational Diversity and Inclusion strategies – Firms are getting better at this having realised the productivity gains and profit opportunities that comes with a diverse and inclusive workforce. There is still work to be done relating to pay gaps and the number of females at a very senior level, but there is hope! Proactive efforts towards cultural diversity, neurodiversity, LGBTI+ diversity and the celebration of the unique contribution of all employees helps build an inclusive and engaged workplace.

Manageable Workloads – Are manageable workloads possible in our industry so used to the concept of billable hours? Some firms say yes, and it is these that are attracting and retaining talent. They say that manageable workloads can be achieved in ordinary working hours allowing for peaks and troughs and with good resource planning. Often, they have implemented technology that really makes the life of the staff easier and have used the pandemic as an opportunity to streamline processes and remove paperwork.

Investing in employee retention offers up a company bonus – happy employees with great career opportunities talk about your organisation to their friends. Word of mouth improves your reputation as an employer of choice and this all helps make you more attractive to talented legal professionals. It makes recruiting much easier as everyone wants to work for you!

And when everything you have invested and done to retain your high performers has perhaps fallen short because they have personal goals to achieve elsewhere or are leaving the industry, a specialist legal industry recruiter can help you replace them efficiently. At Legal People our network of legal talent is second to none and we are regularly having conversations with legal professionals who have their eye on the next opportunity.  Reach out to our team of experienced and specialist legal industry recruitment consultants for a confidential discussion. We can help advise you on current market rates and the state of the market for legal talent.

About Legal People

Are you looking for a highly talented legal services staff? Legal People is your gateway to legal talent. We are specialists in the Legal Industry. We recruit Lawyers, Support staff and HR professionals in Melbourne, Australia. If you enjoyed reading this article, you can follow our Company Page on LinkedIn for regular updates. To browse our currently available roles click here.


Sharon Henderson Legal PeopleLegal People Logo
Sharon Henderson
Legal Recruitment Specialist at Legal People
Sharon is one of the leading, most respected specialist legal recruiters in Australia having successfully recruited Lawyers, Management & HR staff to the legal industry for over 20 years. She is also the Director & Owner of Legal People.
Sharon manages our close knit dedicated team at Legal People and heads up our  Lawyer  and  Management & HR  divisions. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce Degree, majoring in Accounting and Management (Human Resources) from the University of Melbourne and she is also a Chartered Accountant.

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