Increasingly law firms are witnessing higher attrition rates for newly qualified (NQ) solicitors. This article focuses on the new generation of qualified solicitors, referred to as millennials. On average, the attrition rate for those with 1-3 years PQE is higher than any other PQE group.1 By comparison, while junior lawyers have a high attrition rate, across the board this is still significantly lower than other industries. It is a challenge for law firm management to keep junior lawyers engaged in their firm as this generation is the group most likely to change jobs within a year, demonstrating attrition rates are going up.
Culture of NQ’s
Junior lawyers, especially in City law firms, work long hours to drive their career progression. Stress brought on by long hours and heavy workloads remains commonplace. One of the main reasons as to why the new generation may choose to leave a firm is to learn new skills so they gain a competitive edge amongst the pool of NQ legal talent. During the training contract, training is offered in a number of different practice groups. However NQ solicitors tell us that, one of the key reasons why they leave their current firm is due to taking on significant work in one practice area during training. This then becomes the practice area in which they are placed in their NQ year. As a result, they are looking for a firm that offers experience in lots of different practice areas. There is certainly an indication that this generation are particularly keen to develop skills that they have fallen short of. As such, if an opportunity arises which offers development, firms are likely to see job hopping because the new generation are open to new opportunities.
Traditionally, the promise of partnership has been the carrot used to motivate the continued hard work of junior lawyers. However, for millennials, partnership may be less attractive. For many junior lawyers, the pastoral offerings of a firm (collegiate supervision, learning and development opportunities, challenging work, etc.) are as great an attraction as high salaries and senior job titles. These are some of the motivations of the new generation, which demonstrates their ambition. Often millennials will choose to leave a firm where they have not received the support expected, developed professional relationships or felt at ease with the culture of the firm.
What can Law Firms do?
Among the firms usual practice for developing and retaining their workforce, Law Firms can:
- invest time in NQ solicitors after their training such as coaching, mentoring and further training. Whilst for some millennials making partnership is not the end goal, succession planning remains important for firms by identifying how the new generation of lawyers will fill key business roles in the future;
- reward and praise junior lawyers, as feedback and ongoing support is invaluable. Management should take requests made by junior lawyers for meaningful work seriously e.g. pro-bono work or projects as it displays versatility and may tie in with the Firms strategy;
- allow junior lawyers autonomy in their approach to work. Whilst it does require trust and knowledge, where it is possible this should be permitted. This strengthens the relationship between both parties and presents not only a challenge but creativity;
- be open-minded to flexibility and the way work is conducted, particularly by embracing new technologies and social media presence to move outside of standard working hours. This generation would like better life quality, therefore, embracing new ways of working allows for better access and implementation of information.
According to research carried out by PWC in 2015,2 there is an increase of staff turnover rates in UK law firms and there is a competition for legal talent. While the culture, strategy and working environment are influential deciding factors that impact turnover rates in UK law firms, the research shows that investing in people is what will encourage retention. In reference to millennial lawyers, law firms may need to consider what is attracting this generation to move to other firms. Law firms may benefit from reflecting on what value millennial talent can gain from staying e.g. international opportunities, opportunities to build on client relationships and working in different areas of practice. In addition, firms can look to the new generation of legal talent to engage with potential new ways that legal work will be carried out in the future. By embracing these factors, millennial mobility risk will decrease as the new generation of lawyers are more likely to be engaged and influential in the long term strategy of the firm, thus firms retain and sustain this talent.
Law firms are required to tackle the expectations of junior lawyers, which may be difficult, as there are different perceptions of what the new generation want from work. There may be the assumption that there is ‘no pleasing’ junior lawyers as they will not stay despite strategies in place to retain. On the whole, in my view, each junior lawyer has different reasons for choosing to leave or stay at a firm but I have seen that increasingly this comes down to the lack of opportunity to work in their preferred practice area. Each case is unique as individuals have different drivers and catering to them all is impossible. However, firms can try to understand and take on-board the recurring trends and by doing so reduce their attrition rates.
1 Simmons, Richard, Retention rates: Winning the war of attrition, The Lawyer, 2014, https://www.thelawyer.com/issues/tl-28-july-2014/retention-rates-winning-the-war-of-attrition, viewed 11th May, 2016.
2 PwC, Annual law firms’ survey, PwC, 2015, http://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/business-services/law-firms/survey.html, viewed 14th May 2016.