In the fourth installment in our series of "Stellar Performance Research" reports, we look at how law firms can best engage their lawyers, increasing lawyer satisfaction levels and lowering flight risk in the process
Lawyers who are highly engaged in their jobs are a key component to the smooth operation and financial success of their law firms on many levels. For instance, engaged lawyers are more likely to recommend their firms as good places to work, more likely to introduce colleagues to clients, and pose a drastically lower flight risk.
The question remains, however: What can firms do to better engage their lawyers? And more importantly, what are a law firm’s most valuable lawyers considering when they assess their futures at their firms?
In a new series of Stellar Performance Research reports, we will look at the experiences that Thomson Reuters Stand-out Lawyers — those nominated by their clients as being exemplary attorneys — have had with such critical topics as lateral hiring, client feedback, recruitment and retention, lawyer engagement, collaboration, and more. In our earlier reports, we looked at formal client feedback programs, retaining top associates, and ensuring successful lateral hires, and now, we examine lawyer engagement — how lawyers view levels of engagement, their likelihood that they would leave their firms, their satisfaction levels with various aspects of law firm life, and their work arrangements.
From this data, gathered from a survey of 2,400 Thomson Reuters Stand-out Lawyers around the world, we present a picture of the satisfaction levels of a firm’s most valuable lawyers, the drivers behind those satisfaction levels, and the actions firms can take to retain their most valuable team members.
Changing the culture around lawyers
During the pandemic, many law firms embraced the hard work of rethinking their work cultures and values, especially around work/life balance and engagement in the digital age. Those efforts appear to have paid off, as stand-out lawyers say they are in general much more satisfied with their firm’s culture and values now than they were before the pandemic.
Not surprisingly then, stand-out lawyers’ likelihood to recommend their firms as good places to work has also risen slightly, even as levels of collaboration have remained consistent despite the growing acceptance of remote or hybrid work (for more detail on collaboration, see our Stellar Performance Research Report on collaboration which will be released next month).
Despite this good news and higher levels of lawyer satisfaction, many lawyers are more likely to say they’re considering leaving their current job, and one of the primary reasons is dissatisfaction with leadership and firm strategy. Indeed, after dissatisfaction with their compensation, large percentages of lawyers said they are unhappy with firm strategy (with 27% of lawyers who had said they were considering leaving their firm citing this as the main reason) and firm leadership (24%). Further, feeling underappreciated was cited by more than one-third of those lawyers who had said they were considering leaving their current firms.
To counter this dissatisfaction, law firms would be wise to invest in leadership. Our previous Stellar Performance research has shown that law firm leadership needs to demonstrate three critical actions:
- Form a clear vision for the firm and articulate a strategy to achieve it.
- Emphasize positive personal characteristics such as focus, energy, care, and support.
- Cultivate a culture of collaboration, client focus, and transparency.
While having a clearly articulated vision is an important leadership quality across all industries, it may be even more critical to law firms. There are few other businesses in which such a large number of professionals — in this case, equity partners — potentially have a voice in the overall running of the firm. Clearly, as this report shows, the engagement levels of a firm’s lawyers have a large impact on the success of their firms. And in the view of stand-out lawyers, responsibility for increasing firms’ engagement levels lies squarely on the shoulders of firm leadership.
Lawyers today are looking for clarity, strategic direction, and leaders who are not afraid to show their concern and care on a personal level. So, law firms must take the time to understand how they are perceived by their lawyers, to determine their value and how they may move forward branding themselves to the talent they want to retain and attract.
While these would be reasonable requests within any professional workplace, the nature and structure of law firms makes these factors even more relevant — and makes it all the more important that law firm leadership demonstrate these actions to keep their top lawyers engaged.