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Practice Management

The Great Resignation spotlight on lawyer burnout

Finding high-caliber legal talent to be part of your law firm is always a challenge. Securing qualified attorneys to join your team requires that you spend time, money, and significant resources to assist in finding someone who is the right fit. But even if you manage to hire some of the best attorneys available to join your firm, you still need to retain those attorneys over the long term. Unfortunately, keeping your legal talent can be difficult, especially with attorneys working remotely.

But, even if your firm has won the battle of securing great legal talent, will you be able to win the war against law firm attrition? Can you help your remote associates reach the work-life balance they are looking for while maintaining a solid connection to the firm?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple formula for retaining your remote legal talent. Making attorneys want to remain committed members of your law firm requires creativity and expertise to fulfill their need for a satisfying give-and-take between their professional and private lives. This is especially true when they have a limited physical connection to the law firm, as is when they are working remotely.

What is The Great Resignation’s effect on the legal profession?

Following the onset of the Pandemic in 2020, employees began to re-examine how they were living their lives. Specifically, workers started to think about the balance between their work lives and personal lives. As a result, many employees were dissatisfied with how they were living and took steps to reset their work-life balance by leaving their current jobs. This movement to reach a balance between their work and their life outside of work became known as the “Great Resignation.”

This “Great Resignation” of 2021 did not spare the legal community. Instead, it resulted in burned-out and dissatisfied attorneys re-examining the law firm culture they were working in and taking steps to achieve a work-life balance that they found acceptable.

This trend of resignations can also be considered a “great realization” and an awakening where attorneys realized their value to their firms. They felt that their firms had failed them and realized they had other options and better opportunities to deal with their attorney burnout. As a result, these attorneys decided to re-think their priorities and how they wanted to live their lives and spend their time.

For these attorneys, this attempt at re-balancing their lives often meant that they walked away from the law firms that hired them. But unfortunately, offering a salary increase wasn’t sufficient to convince these attorneys to return to their jobs. And as a result, many law firms lost the talent they had worked so hard to find.

The effect of the remote workplace on lawyer burnout

Law firms can adapt to the needs of their attorneys who are working remotely; it simply takes a willingness to utilize new methods to support their employees.

According to the 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market, issued by the Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and the Thomson Reuters Institute, law firms overall demonstrated “surprising agility” during the Pandemic while transitioning to remote work. The report further indicates that firm leaders agree that some combination of in-person and remote work will likely remain a part of law firm culture.

Firms now need to continue that agility and adaptability to accommodate the needs of their attorneys in the long-term, or even permanent, remote workplace. Remote work frequently presents issues regarding the equitable assignment of work, mentoring, evaluations, fair career advancement, and maintaining firm culture. These issues set the scene for burnout and increased risk of attrition.

Simply increasing a remote attorney’s salary is insufficient to compensate for their disconnection and isolation from the office environment. Further, a salary increase will not level the playing field and make up for lost opportunities from being excluded from the office environment. The post-“Great Resignation” attorney also values appreciation, recognition, equity, and mental well-being. Although these may be intangible components, they remain essential to preventing burnout, minimizing attrition, and ensuring legal talent retention.

The Great Resignation taught law firms how to put an end to lawyer burnout

The “Great Resignation” has provided the ideal opportunity for law firms to reflect and evaluate how they can adapt and change to retain their current top legal talent and attract new top legal talent.

When looking at their remote workforce, law firms need to re-assess how they can strengthen the connection between the remote attorney and the law firm. The remote attorney needs to feel appreciated, acknowledged, and treated fairly.

As the report indicates, law firms have adapted quite well to the necessity of a remote workforce. Now, they need to expand that agility and flexibility into other areas of their practice with time-saving tools to assist in billing, case management, fee collections, and client communications.

To understand more about the impact of the Great Resignation on firms, watch our on-demand webcast “Stop the Great Resignation” here.

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