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How do changing employee requirements affect law firms?

Leaders within the legal industry are increasingly realising that they need to take an innovative approach to staffing in order to adapt to future marketplace challenges.

The look and feel of the legal profession as a whole is expected to be vastly different in the next 10 years. Changing client requirements, evolving employee expectations, technological advances and other external factors will alter the very nature of job and its skills requirement across the future industry.

It is vitally important that firms adapt to how people want to work and live in the 21st century, with a new generation of lawyers becoming increasingly less compatible with traditional legal working patterns. In order to retain success in the future, decision makers and Practice Managers should be asking:

  • What does our future business strategy look like?
  • What types of employee do we need to deliver it?
  • What are the current capabilities and capacity of existing employees?
  • Where are the gaps and how do we fill them?

Firms will require the capabilities to recruit and develop a new type of employee; with behaviours and skills that are inherently different from those required today. Targeting and tailoring investments in the right kind of talent will be crucial in attracting and retaining top-rate employees. Staff retention is becoming an increasing challenge within the legal industry, as 35 percent of 25-34 year old’s say that they are likely to switch jobs in the next 12 months, a figure far higher than any other age group.

The real question, however, remains: what exactly is it that the new generation of legal employees want from the workplace?

Flexible working practices

The integration of work and life, and offering an attractive package in terms of flexibility in hours, working style and location, can be a crucial factor in heightened levels of attraction, retention and contribution of talented legal professionals

Often, legal businesses that remain resistant to flexible working practices tend to focus on an ethos of working long hours – this can lead to feelings of disenfranchisement amongst younger lawyers that seek flexible working arrangements.

Many firms are still reticent about flexible working, as there is still the belief that being in the office is necessary to ensure quality control and efficient working. As many as 55 percent of workers are still required by employers to work from the office within designated working hours. Now more than ever, partners and practice managers need to overcome the myth that work can only happen in the office. Embracing flexible working to give employees the right kind of environment to be productive anytime, anywhere is key to future company success.

Law firms will need to make sure that they provide the correct tools for everything from hardware, file management/storage, communication ability and remote chat.

In a successful forward-thinking firm, it is also desirable to have modern case management software that can be accessed with a web interface from anywhere in the world. This will enable employees to open and close files, record time, save documents, edit documents, and the ability to issue and to track invoices.

 Coaching and development plans

By 2025, around three quarters of the global workforce will be made up of the Millennial generation, and firms would be wise to assess the general profile of this workforce. The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 suggested that businesses must review how they nurture loyalty amongst this group, or risk losing a large share of their workforce. 42 percent of those surveyed hoped to make partner in a law firm, with a further 21 per cent stating that they did wish to progress with same firm.

Increasingly, younger employees have come to expect structured development programmes from their employers, including elements of coaching and nurturing from superiors. Senior partners would be wise to ask questions and then tailor a bespoke response in terms of future development plans.

However, at the core of implementing development programmes is the ability to recognise that not all law firm partners have the interpersonal skillset necessary to undertake this task, but its importance must be understood. Investing in people is just as important as the time spent on chargeable hours, as the ability to attract, develop and retain people is fundamental to longer-term business success.

At the core of this is the development of the ‘employer brand’ – which sits alongside and supports the client brand. Many of the new positioning strategies that firms are now deploying play strongly to the values and views of younger workers. They increasingly want to work for organisations where they have a greater say in strategy and a clear view of the company’s CSR policy.

Millenial employees also place a greater emphasis on poor performance management, including a lack of constructive feedback and concrete goals, than their predecessors, and many cite that it would ultimately drive them to look for work elsewhere.

 Utilise agile working and technology

Agile working, often described as the modern way that firms empower employees with maximum flexibility and minimum restraint, has seen wide-scale adoption across multiple industries, yet legal firms still lag behind. Successful law firms of the future will have to effectively promote agile working practices in order to increase productivity amongst employees, and to attract the best talent moving forward.

Agile working, if conducted effectively through the use of clever technology, can encourage increased productivity, better financial results and an increase in loyalty.

Reducing overheads and using innovative business practices and technology can also deliver better value for clients, which is an attractive proposition in an otherwise crowded marketplace. Successful adoption can also free lawyers to focus 100% on looking after the needs of clients – moving away from timesheets and billable hours, and concentrating on the delivery of high levels of customer service, with a spotlight on direct access to senior lawyers.

However, adoption requires a complete change in culture and has to be driven from the top – the appetite must be there for change.  A Legal Week Intelligence and Microsoft survey of legal professionals in the UK found that more than two thirds of respondents felt their firm provided them with the right technology to do their jobs effectively inside and outside the office, but there was room for improvement, and 87% of lawyers still use a pen and paper to complete legal work.

Existing IT infrastructure can be a stumbling block for some private practices. Of those legal professionals surveyed, 64 percent said they had difficulty working remotely, whilst 52 percent cited the speed of their systems as an issue. Client demands are also changing, and putting pressure on law firms to innovate with the ways they use technology and manage their relationships. They want to be able to collaborate on a document in real time, seeing changes made whilst discussing amendments over the phone. Junior lawyers have also grown up more closely with technology than their predecessors, and as such are pushing their firms to modernise too.

Many firms are now looking to transition to a mobile-first system, where all back-end systems, process management and documents are stored remotely in the cloud, and can be accessed anywhere and at any time, using mobile devices such as a phone and a tablet.

 Collaborative working

Noticeable paradigm shifts happening in the legal industry include the dilution of client loyalty, along with a consequent increase in the importance of marketing and branding in an increasingly noisy and competitive environment. With this is mind, firms are becoming attuned to the fact that they will need to create more ‘non-lawyer’ roles to successfully manage this change.

With this shift, and a rise in alternative career options internally, comes an understanding of the need to work collaboratively. This goes hand in hand with the modernisation of office design and feel – traditionally, most lawyers worked in predominantly quiet, office environments, which fostered concentration, but many firms are now factoring in open-plan spaces and ‘breakout areas’ so as to foster communication.

Allowing workers to choose their working space, when they work within it, and for how long can all make a big difference to productivity levels, and to the eventual success of the firm. This further extends to factors such as lighting, temperature, décor, type of laptop and even people’s preference for types of chairs.

Historically, due to the very nature of the profession, lawyers have not worked in a team-orientated way, but with a renewed focus on both client and employee lifetime value, this way of thinking is slowly changing. Younger employees especially recognise that specialisation and collaboration lead to greater working satisfaction, and that teamwork fosters trust and loyalty.

Trends in the legal market, such as firms opening more regional offices, will also spur on technological change if employees in different locations need to work on matters simultaneously. The rise of the gig economy and more fluid working practices may also encourage law firms to adopt a more collaborative appraich to working, especially if, for instance, they bring in experts for specific projects on a one-off basis.


The future talent landscape open to firms of all sizes will depend entirely on how individual companies respond to the challenges that lie ahead. They will need to maximise the opportunities available to them through their talent strategies in order to mitigate risks and remain competitive within the global marketplace.

Mid-sized legal firms will require a focused talent strategy, as aim to compete with larger firms that have the ability to scale, invest and innovate. They also face competition from smaller firms that can afford to be more agile and less restricted by fixed costs.












[2] See study above


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