Great Expectations

Great Expectations and The Great Resignation in Legal Careers Today

“Flexibility”, “Work-Life Balance”, and the words that many law firms and legal tech/services companies fear most – “Remote/Hybrid Work Environments” are just some of the “Great Expectations” of workers in the legal industry in the era of the Great Resignation.

What Caused the Great Resignation?

Many will say that the COVID-19 pandemic was the cause of the Great Resignation, but I disagree. It was surely an accelerator but what we are seeing today represents a generational shift in what position work takes in the lives of younger people who have already or are entering the workforce now. The idea that work is critical to someone’s success in life has been replaced with a strongly held belief that work is a means to an end. The “Great Expectations” of workers have shifted.

We have four very diverse generations in the workforce right now – baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z – which is creating chaos. Many boomers and Gen X workers understand the push to “get back to normal”. But millennials and, especially, Gen Z workers see this as a time where their work life is aligned with who they are as people in terms of the use of technology and a new sense of the when, where, and how of work being in their control.

This is the battle that is really going on. It pits long held beliefs and ways of doing things against 24+ months of a new paradigm.

From a corporate perspective, the Contract (Gig) economy was already moving full steam ahead, but the Great Resignation is forcing the hands of many organizations to backfill fleeing employees with Gig Workers rather than using them just to address bandwidth issues. From technology to design recruiting, Gig workers will continue to be the path that many organizations choose to meet business objectives in this time of high demand and low supply in the talent market.

Why does anyone in a law firm, a legal services provider, or a legal technology company think that it will be different for them?

How Today’s “Great Expectations” Are Impacting Legal

Many legal tech and services organizations are probably better prepared to pivot to a hybrid or remote environment. On the other hand, law firms are most at risk of experiencing real and continued pain in trying to hire, especially at the Associate level. Even prior to the pandemic, getting young lawyers to stay on and grow the Partner ranks was a real challenge. Many younger attorneys have many interests outside of the law, so heading down the road of becoming a Partner is unappealing to them because of the time involved, the laser focus required, and most importantly, their beliefs about where work fits in their lives.

While the use of legal technology can help offset attorney resignations, law firms are now forced to rethink the “what, where, when, and how” of the practice of law. Consider that the average age of a Partner in a law firm in the US is 52! That means that the “Silver Tsunami” is coming fast to law firms around the globe. Without an influx of new lawyers committed to traveling the path to Partner, the time-honored structure of Law Firms is in jeopardy.

Legal technology and outsourced services providers are seeing, and will continue to see, an increase in demand for their services. However, if they do not shift to meet the needs of changing work landscape, they will also struggle to deliver to their clients’ needs.

Addressing the “Great Expectations” of Today’s Workforce

So, what can you do? Here are three suggestions to consider as you navigate the new employment paradigm of “Great Expectations” as a law firm or a tech/services company:

  1. Retain, Retain, Retain: Work to understand what your workers are asking for in terms of work – then shift how you accomplish your business objectives to align with what those asks. Understand that a change of this magnitude takes time – once you understand what is required to retain top talent, you’ll need to communicate your plans, timelines, and milestones to assure your people they were heard, that you’re acting on their input, and that you can demonstrate real progress.
  2. Rethink Recruiting: Recruiting is a process that has gotten less personal over time and more focused on speed than ever before. But a fancy applicant tracking system or AI sourcing tool won’t help you attract high quality hires if your internal processes don’t address the “Great Expectations” of candidates today where they feel truly appreciated as a candidate and not just a resume to fill a position. Candidates select work with those they trust. Train your talent teams how to build real, actionable relationships that they can call on when needed, rather than spending time recreating work every time a new role becomes available. I would also recommend that all recruiters in your organization should read Stephen Covey’s The Speed of Trust.
  3. Stop saying, “This is the way we have always done it”: No one cares. If you have numerous openings that you’re not filling, while smaller and more flexible companies are successfully hiring (which they are), the blame may sit squarely with you. The days of relying on the company name, profitability, status in the industry, or being the biggest dog in the fight are over. Organizations that are agile will win the talent war. They’re solving the problem by envisioning a different path forward. They flex to meet the needs of the workers they employ. Find new ways to get it done and let go of assuming past successes will carry you through. Stop thinking this is a passing fad. Things have changed. They will continue to change. Evolve or fall further behind.

We’ve all heard the saying “Big Ship. Small Rudder.” Change requires time and effort from everyone. To expect someone who just spent 12-24 months working from home to return to an environment that looks and operates just like it did before is foolish. Their “Great Expectations” have changed – whether you like it or not.

So, what are you going to do?

Disclosure: Intalegence is a Sponsor of eDiscovery Today

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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