Firm business

As law firm professionals shift to other sectors, it could create a shortage of qualified personnel

Law firm leaders are increasingly concerned about losing professional talent, and not just to other law firms. They fear that people with transferable expertise, such as human resources, information technology, marketing and sales, will leave the legal industry altogether if certain demands are not met.

At the Association of Legal Administrators annual conference and expo in Austin, Texas, in October, ALA Executive Director April Campbell repeatedly heard a question she hadn’t not heard much before: what should I do to keep my ALA membership if I change jobs? ?

It’s a rare question, she said, because people generally don’t bother to keep their ALA membership if they move from one law firm to another. But it can happen more if they leave law firms for another industry.

Business professionals have long felt undervalued and less empowered in their work than their fellow lawyers. But law firms have traditionally offered better compensation and benefits for these roles, which has helped retention. That has changed, thanks to a combination of the Great Resignation, labor shortages, and law firms falling behind their corporate brethren.

While there has long been a lot of movement among law firm professionals, it gets more complicated when people leave the industry. The idea of ​​the carousel effect – where someone leaves one company and another person leaves a different company to take their place – doesn’t work if there’s no one to replace.

Jennifer Johnson, founder and CEO of legal consultancy and staffing firm Calibrate Legal, says law firms still tend to pay more than typical corporate jobs, but it’s not just about the money .

“Recruiting is like dating,” she said. “You put on your best outfit and both parties rehearse. Then you introduce yourself. We’ve had a number of people who started in the last three months saying, ‘get me out of here’. It’s just rainbows and unicorns until it’s not.

She said the main concern among business professionals is the lack of commitment and clarity on flexible working, something that has permeated across the legal industry.

“Companies that say they’ll be flexible and then try to get professionals to come into the office will lead people to the exits,” Johnson said.

The time for these decisions is fast approaching. Many professionals, such as lawyers, wait for their year-end bonuses before taking serious action.

“By the end of the first and second quarters, we’ll see the carousel,” Campbell said. “If that happens and a person changes companies, that’s a trade. But if people leave the industry, I don’t know who will fill those roles.

Johnson mentioned that the Big Four are likely landing spots for professionals leaving law firms, citing more progressive work policies, similar compensation structures and more comprehensive maps for advancement opportunities.

But it has also seen several professionals leave law altogether, particularly in the DEI space.

“I’ve seen more than a few DEI professionals go to corporate America,” Johnson said. “Some of these companies have a stronger framework for their programs, while law firm ones tend to be more organic as opposed to having a strategic vision over the next three to five years.”

Yet, there remain opportunities for companies that prioritize their professionals and give them the same level of autonomy as lawyers.

“People have demonstrated that they can work successfully remotely,” said Melanie Priddy, director of talent at Katten Muchin Rosenman.

She said her firm has a program called KattenFlex, rolling out in the summer of 2021, which allows for flexible work arrangements for lawyers and professionals while trusting them to do their job and not requiring a minimum number of days. in the office.

“We wanted to make sure that all of our policies and benefits apply to both professionals and lawyers,” she said. “When they are not the same, business professionals get very frustrated. We want to be clear that they are valued the same as lawyers.

Campbell echoed that sentiment, hoping the current labor situation will be a catalyst for law firms to “modernize” their labor policies for professionals.

“It’s been so unfair between staff and lawyers in many firms for a long time,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for companies to step up and modernize their structures and really let the professionals do what they know how to do.”