Creating legal careerists – talent retention amongst millennials

Posted in Blog on 21 Nov 2018

There’s a growing trend of big U.S. law firms appointing chief talent officers. 

Cleary Gottlieb has joined the likes of Shearman & Sterling, Fisher & Phillips and Locke Lord in creating senior talent-focused positions; these law firms are taking a more strategic approach to legal sector recruitment, diversity, inclusion and the conundrum that is retention.

This got us thinking, not about whether such a trend will see UK firms following suite and an influx of recruitment requests for senior talent managers, but more about the importance of talent retention.


Looking at retention in isolation, there’s a general assumption that holding-on to talent for long periods is increasingly challenging, as younger professionals are more inclined to frequently move jobs. This assumption was supported by the data we analysed when producing our 2018 Salary and Benefits Benchmarker; ambitious young Solicitors legal professionals are twice as nimble when maxing out salaries in the first 10 years of their careers and are making up to four job moves in the first ten years of their legal careers without fear of damaging their personal brand.


However it’s a different story when looking at the talent pool as a whole. Earlier this year we highlighted that job security had returned to the legal sector with just 8% of the legal profession citing job security as the main motivator for changing jobs in 2018, a rate that had been steadily falling from its 5 year peak of 21% at the beginning of 2014. Without this driver the number of legal professionals actively looking to change jobs has shrunk to a 5 year low; 24% of the legal talent pool will be actively looking to change jobs in 2018, down 4 percentage points since 2017 and 17 points from its 5 year peak in January 2015. Furthermore the 2018 data demonstrated that legal professionals were more sticky, staying in their jobs for 4.1 years compared to 3.8 in 2017. 


Our 2019 survey is now live (click to take part) and it’ll be interesting to see how this average number of years moves. A recent LexisNexis article highlighted millennials form the backbone of staff and client bases, constituting 35% of the workforce, which will rise to 50% in 2020. 


Does this mean we can expect to see the average years before legal professionals get itchy feet start to decline? Whether we do or don’t, talent retention remains a critical component of law firm success.

Long-serving staff tend to better embrace and share company values, creating a more positive working culture. They provide stability in terms of succession planning. They can help safeguard client relationships. They can prove invaluable training and coaching to the next generation. They can deliver consistency and a foundation for reducing risk.


So, as younger generations enter the workplace, how do firms hold-on to talented employees and create careerists?

With our team working at the coalface, regularly speaking with legal professionals and understanding what’s important to them, we’ve collated a list of the top three factors to help boost talent retention.


  • Pounds and purpose – there’s no point in pretending salary is not important to younger professionals or they’re going to highly prioritise other factors over what they’re paid. Many are saddled with student debt and as well wanting to pay this, they take satisfaction in earning money, feeling like their years of hard study are literally paying-off. However, after a few years of earning, they’ll start to seek a new sense of satisfaction alongside salary and career progression. This is when they will look more closely at what the firm stands for outside of its commercial interests. Firms need to have active and meaningful programmes in place that enable employees to find a sense of purpose beyond adding to the bottom line.


  • Authentic tech – we know younger generations have grown-up in an era of ever-advancing technology, so it’s a case of not stating the obvious here. Of course, they want to work in tech-rich environments. They expect it. The point is they’re extremely savvy in terms of the value of functional technology vs. potential gimmicks. Virtual reality, augmented reality, gamification, apps, etc are all fine as long as they help them do their jobs more effectively. They’re looking for working environments where technology is authentically utilised to save them time, improve interactions between colleagues and clients, and to reduce admin so they can focus more on doing the job they enjoy.


    • Opportunity to innovate – ‘disruption’ is commonplace for younger generations, as is ‘evolution’. They’re familiar with traditional ways of doing things suddenly being turned on their heads, and for the better. They’re excited by change and the prospect of challenging convention. They respect those that dare to be different. It’s rumoured many of the world’s most successful digital and social media companies create environments that reward failure to promote innovation. Law firms can take cues from this. Talented legal professionals crave a place where they can share their ideas and will thrive for much longer in a firm that encourages innovative thinking at all levels.


    Interested in finding out more about what matters to legal professionals, take a look at this year’s Salary and Benefits Benchmarker.

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