The latest law firm survey from recruitment firm Mahlab shows a major surge in law firm resignations, despite major increases in law firm salaries.
The Mahlab survey indicates a growing disenchantment with the law as a profession, with legal talent leaving, be it London, New York or Sydney.
The resignations continue notwithstanding a major increase in big law firm salaries made by legal employers, ranging from 10 to 20 per cent, quite apart from the money paid to associates in the major centres like London, which have been at times eye watering.
Salaries for senior associates in Australia range from $165,000 – $180,00 package (incl. superannuation), the report shows.
An article in the Australian Financial Review from lawyer Stefanie Costi indicated the strength of feeling among younger lawyers.
“This environment of high salaries and longer hours is likely to be unsustainable in the medium term. Well paid lawyers and senior associates continue to value life balance over the short term final gain . . “ Mahlab survey
“In many cases, the junior lawyer will have no choice but to trade in their work-life balance and overall well-being to manage demanding workloads and billable hours. They understand there are always more young professionals than opportunities, and that law is an incredibly hierarchical profession.
“The situation is only aggravated when management refuses to compensate them for their toil, and they are faced with an impossible choice: “put up and shut up” to advance or resign.
“And with a conga line of graduates ready to take their jobs when they leave, the vicious cycle continues, over and over, resulting in capable young lawyers now battered and bruised leaving private practice for good,” she wrote.
Harsh lockdowns and the ability to work remotely have given young lawyers the time and space away from the office to re-evaluate their careers, work conditions and what matters most to them in their lives, says Costi.
The Mahlab survey shows that lawyers are more mobile than ever, but the demands upon them are also growing as the demand for legal services continues unabated, placing work pressures upon them even more.
“This environment of high salaries and longer hours is likely to be unsustainable in the medium term. Well paid lawyers and senior associates continue to value life balance over the short term final gain . . “, the survey says.
In February, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that Australia had its highest job mobility rate (9.5 per cent) since 2012. Similar statistics can be seen in other jurisidctions like the UK where lawyers are ready to move.
The Australian statistics come off the back of some of the lowest job mobility rates Australia has ever seen.
Law Firms Changing
The pandemic, mobile working, wellness issues, hybrid working and the like have all lead to significant changes in how law firms manage their staff.
But clearly there are challenges that remain, if not more significant than before.
The survey indicated that many Australian lawyers will vote with their feet in the next 12 to 18 months to pursue their interest in options outside private practice.
“The test will be whether they can accept a possible drop in remuneration to move in-house or to government law. Law firms are now open to lawyers working remotely or from interstate offices.”
The problem with working from home is that lawyers can wind up working even longer hours than the office demanded.
But there are major factors that are missing with working from home.
The survey showed they are “without the day-to-day interaction, mentoring, social and learning opportunities they would enjoy in the office.+
“This is particularly difficult for junior lawyers. Law firms will continue to strive to overcome the impact on staff.”
New Law Job Offers
The headwinds coming will continue to shape the way law firms offer work to prospective employees, including not just increased salaries, but also different benefits packaged to make their long hours more attractive.
But the systemic issue for law firms in multiple jurisdictions continues to make the recruitment and retention of lawyers an ongoing issue which, until resolved, will see a continuation of the great legal resignation.