The Big Quit
Read the full article in the March issue of ALA’s Legal Management magazine.
How to keep the Great Resignation from visiting your firm.
There’s an exodus happening in many workplaces. According to the most recently released U.S. Department of Labor data, workers are walking away from their jobs, voluntarily, in record numbers. In November 2021, more than 4.5 million people joined the Great Resignation, re-evaluating their careers and searching for different opportunities.
This trend is reflected within legal as well. Within the legal profession, the 2022 Report on the State of the L
egal Market from the Thomson Reuters Institute and the Georgetown Law Center found that associate turn
over reached a worrying 23.2% on a rolling, 12-month basis through November 2021. With more workers deciding to leave their positions — spurred in large part by the pandemic — law firms are rethinking their strategies, policies and benefits to adjust to and navigate this trend. And they are redoubling efforts to create a culture that helps recruit and retain top-performing lawyers and staff as the work landscape continues to evolve.
Here’s a look at what some firms are doing to make sure the Great Resignation doesn’t reach their doorsteps.
Recruiting lawyers and staff during the pandemic presents a range of challenges and solutions. To be competitive, one Canadian firm reintroduced signing bonuses for lawyers, an incentive it hadn’t used for a number of years.
Meanwhile, Holzer Patel Drennan offers flexible billable hours for an adjustable compensation structure
, gap insurance to assist with medical insurance deductibles and paid parental leave. Importantly, the firm also focuses attention on its current staff.
“Our best advertisement is the happiness of our team,” says Firm Manager Terri Moore-Natal, SPHR. “Management works hard to make sure we are connecting and listening to staff, reviewing salary benchmarks, offering professional development training and making a concerted effort to include our support team during the hiring process.”
The last two years have proven that for many, operations can run just as smoothly with employees working from home. And this flexibility is not something employees are willing to give up. A February report from Pew Research Center found that 64% of respondents say working from home has made it easier to balance work and personal life.
Instituting more flexible work arrangements is a key factor in retaining a happier workforce. But the range of flexibility differs widely among firms.
As a perk, workplace flexibility continues to be at the top of the list for both lawyers and staff, notes
Lynn Iding, CPHR, CCIP, Director of Human Resources at Stewart McKelvey. “Some enjoy the ability to work from home. Others are itching to get back to the office.”
At Holzer Patel Drennan, the firm has instituted “flexible work hours to accommodate early birds, night owls and those who want to work fewer than a 40-hour work week,” says Moore-Natal. The firm encourages but does not require in-office attendance, except for essential personnel. For those opting to work at home, the firm has provided sit/stand desks and additional monitors, moved everyone to laptops, and offered additional accessories as needed. It’s duplicated the setup for those who are in the office regularly.
ENCOURAGING HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Even with flexible work arrangements, remote and hybrid work can be extremely isolating for some employees, resulting in lower morale and a diminished sense of community. Even with a 300% increase in mental health benefits, one firm employee (who requests to remain anonymous) reports that “our morale has suffered due to COVID and a remote work environment. When we are working in-person, we all benefit from regular get-togethers. Office-wide luncheons, office-wide breakfasts on certain occasions — these gatherings are really, really missed!”
To address the sense of isolation, collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, though not ideal, have been a positive resource, providing daily contact with colleagues. Regular remote coffee chats, virtual activities like cooking lessons, and frequent internal communications — including revamped newsletters and intranet resou
rces with health and wellness articles and staff profiles — also have helped bolster firm culture and connectedness.
O’Melveny & Myers LLP wanted to find ways for employees to remain active, too. They joined forces with Peloton, making it the first law firm to extend Peloton Corporate Wellness offerings to its lawyers and staff. Through this arrangement, all U.S.-based O’Melveny employees receive free access to a Peloton digital membership or subsidized pricing for an all-access membership, as well as preferred pricing on the Peloton Bike and Bike+.
“O’Melveny has always been a firm focused on well-being, where our people can grow as professionals and be the healthiest versions of themselves. The pandemic has made our commitment to well-being even more crucial,” says Chief Operating Officer George C. Demos, who also chairs the firm’s Living Well Committee. In the first full month of the program, Demos says the staff took over 1,800 classes. “I’m thrilled that our lawyers and staff a
re making space in their days to take care of their health and well-being.”
RETHINKING YOUR INTEGRATION AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
The State of the Legal Market report underscored the need for firms to acknowledge and address the life-changing experiences that attorneys and staff have endured during the pandemic, take steps to reexamine all firm operations and activities, and “remember that what emerges in this process will be different from what firms had in place before.”
An expanded menu of benefits and perks, while helpful, is not enough if firms want to recruit and retain top performers. This is a moment where firm leadership can take a fresh and longer-term look at their talent strategy. The pandemic, while continuing to challenge management, offers a unique opportunity to assess how to best support lawyers and staff at every level, says Julia Mercier, Founder of Mercier Talent Solutions. “Having a talent strategy rooted in the firm’s culture, challenges and goals is the key. [The strategy needs to be holistic], engaging high performers by providing mentoring, sponsorship and other opportunities.”
Remote hiring and hybrid work likely will continue — making initial onboarding, integration, mentoring and leadership development more important than ever. Iding says firm management needs to place much more focus on change management and process improvement to accommodate remote work.
Mercier agrees. “Some associates are working with partners and staff they have never met in person. They don’t have the benefit of a preexisting relationship built on experience and trust. Leaders can play a key role by making sure local partners and senior staff have a plan to integrate new hires.”
Executing a strategy to counter the Big Quit also will require management flexibility and transparency, as well as a renewed emphasis on clear and authentic communications.
“My goal is to have the very best people doing the very best for our clients and each other,” says Moore-Natal. “That only happens by getting to know your team and engaging with them regularly — whether it’s meeting about what is or isn’t going well or just a quick hello about a book, movie or podcast. Frequent feedback and follow-through is the best advice I can give to other law firm administrators.”