One of the key impacts that the pandemic had on businesses across industries, including the legal sector was the mass exodus of staff or the reduction of their total working hours. Coined the 'Great Resignation,' this phenomenon shed light on the vulnerabilities within the legal profession, such as a demanding work environment, and long office hours that impeded the work-life balance. Here we examine the Great Resignation, exploring its impact on the legal industry and suggest strategies to embrace the new way of working.
The trend of resignations emerged as employees shifted to remote work, finding newfound flexibility and preference of a home working environment. The rise of technology has since created more opportunities for lawyers to successfully continue to work from home. With cloud-based software, case management tools, and digital communication channels, lawyers can access client files, collaborate and communicate with colleagues and clients without a need to be in the office. This trend is set to continue as feedback indicates that some cases can be dealt with entirely away from the office. By utilising technology, lawyers can continue to provide a quality legal service without sacrificing their personal lives or compromising on productivity.
As lawyers, paralegals, and legal assistants looked at the job market, the factors going into a job switch changed with many seeking a better work-life balance and increased job satisfaction. The 2022 Bellwether Report found that when moving into a new role, 45% would consider the most important factor to be the work-life balance. Outdated working arrangements and office culture disrupted people's mental health, forcing the workforce to change their priorities and re-evaluate their career paths.
The legal industry faced unique obstacles during the pandemic caused by disruptions in courtrooms, challenges in remote communication, and client engagement. Law firms, legal departments, and other legal providers faced increased demand and burden placed on their staff, which led to burnout and increased rates of mental health challenges.
The TCLA’s Mental Health in the Legal Profession 2021 Survey found that 93% of respondents have experienced issues with their mental health over that past year. With findings from The Stevenson review of mental health and employers indicating a significant impact, that poor mental health costs employers up to £42 billion per year. While the pandemic amplified these challenges, it also revealed opportunities for adaptation and collaboration amongst employees, clients, and other stakeholders.
The pandemic forced the legal industry to adapt to new methods of working, embracing technology solutions that encourage remote working. In this new era, firms must reimagine their approach to office life, striving to generate in-person gatherings that serve both client and employee needs. Law firms are stepping up and reviewing their work models, adopting working practices to have greater control over their work hours, providing the flexibility they desire. These changes not only improve staff retention and productivity but also make the industry more competitive in the evolving job market.
Building a positive and healthy work environment in the legal industry, has begun, but it will take time, effort, and collaboration from all stakeholders to keep improving this and sustain it through 2023 and beyond. The Great Resignation has been a wake-up call for law firms, urging them to address their culture, cultivate more positive work practices, and offer flexibility to their employees. With the new era of work, firms must continue to adapt to maintain competitiveness, promote work-life balance, and boost staff well-being.
Law firms looking to continue creating a thriving work environment can look at providing wellness rooms and council to staff, using modern tech solutions to help drive communication channels for remote working, and making sure employees get recognition both on site and remote. A truly exceptional law firm in this field would prioritise demonstrating its commitment to self-care as an integral core value.