Lawyer Talent Retention in a Changing Market: Why prioritising data-driven career development and resource management is the key for firm’s long-term success

In recent years there has been a fundamental shift in how lawyers' approach and prioritise the advancement of their careers. We have seen lawyers, especially those from a younger generation, place a greater emphasis on work-life balance, reduced commute stress, and the greater flexibility that comes with a hybrid working environment. This, however, comes with an increasingly important desire, or demand even, to spend as much of their time as possible working on things they’re interested in, and that will advance their careers as quickly as possible.  

This creates a real challenge for firms seeking to get the balance right and in the full knowledge that today’s associates are increasingly open to exploring new opportunities at other firms, or indeed other industries, to continue their development and pursue their career goals.  

With these market drivers placing more power on employees over employers, it's clear that firms need to better incentivise lawyer retention to avoid talent losses. But how can this be achieved? As always, monetary incentives remain a strong driver, but is an increased salary package enough to motivate a junior lawyer who’s looking to progress their career? Reward is a considerable factor when assessing job attractiveness, but from a firm’s perspective there appears to be an increasing need to consider salary and bonus as just one part of the solution. Not least when in 2023 it’s reported that pay rise across the legal sector has already grown, and it's going to be difficult for firms to continue paying inflated salaries and maintain profits when client demand for legal services is already reported to be shrinking

In order for firms to decrease lawyer turnover more efforts have to be made towards providing the best training and development environment for associates, while giving access to the best and most suitable matters to work on.  From my own experience this appears to be becoming more and more vital when you add the backdrop of many firms seeking to call their lawyers back to the office for more of their time. Hybrid working policy acted as leaver in talent attraction during what many affectionately termed ‘The War for Talent’ a year or two ago. If firms now what to change the deal, they need something else to offer, and reassurance that you’re going to get the best opportunities and best development where you are, could be the best card a firm can play.  

BigHand’s latest market insights show over two-fifths (43%) of firms have increased their focus on lawyer career development over the past 12 months. However, with 62% of firms confirming they lack vital information about lawyer capacity and skill sets, do firms really have the tools to make associate development an operational priority?  It’s evident from the insights that firms' need data to enable strategic decision making around how work is allocated, if they are going to effectively respond to these market trends and support junior lawyers in developing their skills, while providing opportunities to work on the matters that will help to further their careers. 

In the past, I’ve worked with many firms that have navigated similar issues and have found tangible success and improved employee satisfaction by supporting lawyers with resource management technology. A more recent example is Norton Rose Fulbright, who have utilised the ‘Opportunities Board’ functionality within the BigHand Resource Management technology, to give the firm a platform for providing their lawyers with greater visibility of live opportunities for which they are then able to proactively register their interest in getting involved.  

Through use of the technology, the firm could track capacity, interests, and skills of lawyers, and match them with matters that were suitable. Similarly, lawyers now had the chance to flag tasks of interest and that matched their availability.  For the firm the ‘Opportunities Board’ and the wider application of BigHand Resource Management, has hugely benefitted their associate development strategy, and enabled a Resource Management function that is able to support its people, create matter teams in a more strategic and profitable way, and ensure the firm’s partners and clients are able to access the best talent. 

Today, over half of firms have no or only partial data about the capacity and capabilities of their associates. In terms of training, development, and the allocation of work, over 60% of firms lack vital information to support key decision makers. It’s clear the blind position firms are in today and why technology, is so critical for providing visibility into key metrics that will drive decision making today, as well as the long-term direction of the firm.  

To take a deep dive into the data referenced in this article, explore BigHand’s Legal Resource Management insights here 



About BigHand Resource Management

BigHand Resource Management is a legal work allocation tool that allows law firms to identify resources, forecast utilization, manage workloads and add structure to career development for lawyers. The solution delivers real-time visibility of team availability, improved profitability on matters and supports DEI goals and equitable allocation of work.

BigHand Resource Management