Considering a legal career in today’s changing working landscape
Far from being the stuffy and tradition-laden profession still sometimes depicted in the media, law is now a dynamic, exciting and technology-led sector that attracts some of the cream of UK and international law graduates. The pandemic had an accelerating effect on the transition to using new technologies, from video court proceedings and online meetings to Cloud-based document storage and smarter, intuitive workflow software.
The current UK skills shortage is having a particular impact on the legal profession, with firms finding it difficult to recruit the talent they need to take their businesses forward. What has been termed ‘The Great Resignation’, where people unfulfilling jobs in search of a more meaningful career, has taken its toll and many experienced legal practitioners have left the profession. There is competition for talent too from some US law firms expanding in the UK.
According to our Advanced Trends Survey, 87% of legal professionals say their firm has found it difficult to attract new talent or replace leavers this year. 39% told us they had not had sufficient numbers applying for vacancies, while one-third (33%) cannot find suitably qualified people for the roles. It appears that the outlook is good for individuals seeking to pursue a career in law or graduating with law degrees, although as ever, the quest is for the best talent and aspiring lawyers need to ensure they have equipped themselves with the most sought-after skills, to take advantage of some very attractive offers now.
Attraction & retention strategies
As the cost-of-living is rocketing, talented professionals are seeking higher salaries to keep up with inflation. The best can, of course, ask for more than that. To attract new talent, 32% of firms are offering salary increases and newly qualified professionals are now being offered around £100k at many firms with top corporates offering up to £150k deals to secure the best people. That’s a big jump from the average full-time salary for a solicitor back in 2018, which was £62,000 and £88,000 in London. Regional and small firms are also under pressure to secure the cream of available talent with increased wages, or risk missing out to a better-paying competitor. Recruiters have to make decisions to hire quickly, as one-third (33%) say they have missed out on the candidates they wanted to take on in a fast-moving market.
38% of the firms in our survey told us they have increased other package options, such as gym memberships, private health insurance and mobile phone provision. Over one-third (35%) are offering training as a specific attraction and retention strategy.
Hybrid & flexible working
Aside from salaries and benefits, the opportunity for hybrid and flexible working is an important option for aspiring law professionals. Our Trends Survey shows that to attract new staff, 37% of firms are offering flexible working as standard.
Careers in law have traditionally been associated with long hours and a relatively poor work-life balance. Enforced working from home during the pandemic has changed views on this and challenged existing cultures of presenteeism and obligatory overtime. The Great Resignation – the phenomenon that saw many people quitting unfulfilling jobs, post-pandemic, has impact on the law too. People are seeking a better work-life balance, with fewer hours lost to commuting and negotiating office politics, for more meaningful jobs with a greater sense of purpose.
New technology is enabling people in all sectors to collaborate more efficiently and the legal profession is embracing this change. Digital solutions are enhancing client and colleague communications, while Cloud-based technology enables access to documents in real time with updates accessible to all parties immediately. Working remotely, whether from home, a client’s offices or court, is easier than ever before.
The four-day working week is being trialled by over 70 companies in the UK, involving 3,300 employees and includes some law firms, who are finding it drives productivity and helps eliminate wasted time, such as unnecessary meetings. Giving employees more autonomy and trust to get their work done is also helping with engagement and making people feel more empowered, and seems to be working particularly well for firms who are trying to build a team-driven culture instead of being individually target-driven.
Technology is transforming the sector in other ways, beyond enabling hybrid and flexible working, and 87% of legal professionals in our survey told us that technology is important in achieving profitability at their firm or chambers. Implementation of automated processes is having a significant impact on time and resource management. Reducing the time spent on previously manual processes such as form filling and producing contracts gives legal professionals more time for other, higher-value tasks such as applying their expertise and experience with clients and colleagues.
Four out of 10 firms told us the technology they are using to manage case and practice matters helps to ensure compliance and security. These are both critically important for law firms holding sensitive personal and legal data on clients and employees, as the potential for penalties and reputational damage can be ruinous.
One of the barriers to implementing digital legal processes and communications channels in firms is user resistance and 40% of those in our survey said this had been a problem. Newly-qualified and aspiring lawyers should expect to use technology as part of everyday business practice, and be open to adopting new innovations that can streamline workflows, improve productivity and communications, while ensuring the highest levels of cybersecurity and compliance.
Within the legal profession, commercial awareness is more important than ever. Those running law firms and barristers’ chambers are not immune to the rising cost of doing business this year, driven by soaring energy and fuel bills, and demands for increased salaries. This means cost-efficiencies are imperative, focusing activities on those that drive the greatest return on investment (ROI).
Again, it is crucial to be competent with any technology solutions that can drive more efficiency, reducing costs and time for higher productivity. In our survey, 85% of legal professionals told us they work outside of allocated hours. In order to achieve greater profits, while maintaining the improved work-life balance so many seek, law professionals now need to work smarter, not more.
Technology enables this. Cloud-based solutions mean all changes to legal documents are updated and available to all, wherever they are working. It can transform billing, using intuitive time capture tools to ensure time is recorded accurately, reducing the hassle and time wasted with disputed invoices, while accurate real-time reporting solutions mean that any late payments are easily spotted.
Diversity is a growing theme in the legal profession. The skills shortage means many employers are seeking talent beyond top 5 Russell Group university graduates, which is great news for many aspiring lawyers. The technology that enables remote working means that geographical location matters less too. Online recruitment processes and interviews make it easier to engage with candidates from all over country, and those with different characteristics and backgrounds, including those with mobility issues and disabilities.
Annual diversity statistics published by The Solicitors Regulation Authority in April 2022 shows just over half (52%) of solicitors are women, and 17% are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. Disabled people and those whose activities are limited by a health condition or disability are still underrepresented at 5%, against around 20% of the working age population that describe themselves as disabled. There is also an overrepresentation of solicitors who attended fee-paying schools (23% against the national average of 7.5%) and from a professional socio-economic background (58% against 37% nationally).
However, almost one-third (30%) of recruiting law firms are using now using D&I initiatives to attract new candidates. 33% believe their organisation is prioritising diversity at all levels and 58% say their firm’s D&I credentials are helping to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce. One way they are doing this is to implement a process to reduce unconscious bias in hiring practices, which may include things like using application forms that don’t ask for the name of schools and universities attended, don’t have the candiate’s name on and increased use of aptitude tests that seek to identify ability and potential. 47% of the law professionals in our survey told us their firm has implemented some processes like this, and another 37% say they intend to.
Successful hires stick
As well as the willingness and ability to master new technology, many of the traditional skills required of a good lawyer remain. These include the ability to think broadly, beyond their own narrow specialism and understand real world implications for clients, and soft skills for effective communication with clients and colleagues.
Although it seems that talented aspiring lawyers have the world at their feet, it is still important that they endeavour to find a place with the right firm. Values and working culture need to align for a successful match that will lead to a long and lasting career with a firm. That is better for the new recruit, with university loan repayments to consider, newly qualified lawyers are looking for a long-term home and salary security. Getting the right people on board is crucial for firms too, who can spend less time advertising, interviewing and onboarding and more time delivering outstanding legal services to clients that will help them achieve their business ambitions.