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The Great Resignation in legal: How law firms can fight the talent war with technology

You’ve no doubt heard about the so-called “Great Resignation.” Employees, burnt out in their current roles and empowered by a hot job market, are quitting in droves.

The most recent numbers released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 4.3 million people quit their jobs in December 2021 alone, showing only a slight decline from the record-setting 4.5 million people who quit their jobs in November of that year. The trend is a global one, with labor shortages affecting industries of all kinds.

The legal industry is feeling the strain. Lawyers’ increased willingness to jump ship has created a talent war on a massive scale. One recent study of partners at UK law firms found that attracting and retaining existing staff was currently their biggest challenge. Firms around the world desperate to fill open roles are foregoing the usual hiring norms, with American firms recruiting from Canada and some UK firms offering roles to people without even interviewing them.

How did we get here? And how can talented lawyers be incentivized to stay?

The grass is always greener

To say the pandemic changed our lives is both an understatement and a cliché. However, its influence on the Great Resignation and the resulting talent war cannot go unacknowledged. The sudden shift to working from home all but eliminated the separation between work and life, leading to a burnt-out workforce taking covert Zoom interviews with employers offering more balance—and often better pay.

The legal industry is perhaps at greater risk to poaching via video conference. In addition to the stresses of pandemic life, lawyers also face a high-pressure industry with long hours. Although the siren song of higher salary is undeniable, associates have also been leaving their employers—or the legal industry as a whole—for a variety of reasons ranging from overwork to poor company culture.

Hiring new lawyers has undoubtedly become costly as firms battle for talent, but losing a good employee can create an even bigger dent in the firm budget. Gallup reports that the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee's annual salary. Adding that to the cost of the (likely higher) salary for your new employee means that turnover isn’t just frustrating—it’s expensive. 

It's not all about salary

Although many firms have made salary their weapon of choice against the Great Resignation, it’s not the only option. Addressing other factors of discontent—notably, burnout and overwork—could also make an impact. Investing in technology to streamline your processes is one place to start. As Julia Salasky, Legl CEO and former associate at Linklaters, recently put it for Artificial Lawyer:

“LegalTech that provides a proper digital backbone to law firm operations…can be low hanging fruit that delivers a lasting impact. Happy lawyers are doing meaningful, substantive work which uses their exceptional intellect and expertise, not on pushing paper around or ticking boxes on admin.”

Deal closings are one area of legal work that’s ripe for a reassessment. Done the traditional way, it requires long hours of tedious manual labor for junior associates—not a recipe for “happy lawyers.” It may be tempting to view this as a rite of passage, but in this labor market, forcing younger generations to struggle through an old-fashioned process simply doesn’t add up. LinkedIn’s 2021 Workforce Confidence Survey found that 65% of Gen Z have either switched industries or are considering doing so, and that Millennials weren’t far behind. Given that junior associates most likely fall into these age groups, it’s unwise to take for granted that they will stick around after hours and hours of frustrating deal closings.

In a video series iManage presented with Crafty Counsel, Rémy Bonnaffé, Manager at Ask Q and former associate at Freshfields, described his experience doing closings this way:

"It feels like you're doing something that you shouldn't be doing. It feels like there should be a better way…clients are happy when the closing process goes well, but very often they're not happy with the bill. But personally, sometimes it feels like 'why am I doing this?’…Sometimes it feels like what I'm doing is not that useful at all, and that's not a great feeling."

Firms that insist on subjecting junior associates to long, unbillable hours of work that feels of little value are likely not going to be competitive in the current race to attract and maintain talent.

Closing the deal differently

iManage Closing Folders eliminates the manual, repetitive tasks from deal closings. Instead of long nights of tedium preparing documents, associates can create professional-looking closing books in minutes.

Closings can also be completed from anywhere with Closing Folders. Lawyers no longer need to gather in a physical room to sign endless paper documents—Closing Folders makes it possible to gather signatures remotely. Whether collected through PDF, DocuSign (learn more about DocuSign integration in our recent webinar), or both, ink signatures are obsolete. Closings can now be completely virtual, a must in our new world of hybrid work.

In our video series presented with Crafty Counsel, Aaron Baer, Partner, Renno & Co, testified to the ability to close efficiently from anywhere with Closing Folders:

"I just closed a deal about 25 minutes ago. We had people all over the world, multiple law firms involved, and I cannot imagine having done this deal without Closing Folders. It is a tool I use every single day…I closed a $200M Series A transaction on a bus because I had access to Closing Folders on my phone. I had the documents right there and I could coordinate everything."

By relieving your junior associates of lengthy administrative processes, providing them a more flexible way to work, and allowing them to focus on more meaningful tasks, iManage Closing Folders could be your secret weapon against the Great Resignation. Find out more.  

About the author

Gia Tammone-Park