Most firms have not yet encountered many employees leaving voluntarily, but they should expect to in 2022.
Due to recent events, most law firm employees and employers are re-evaluating their current positions and work environments. Overall, law firms have weathered the COVID storm better than originally expected. Initially, many people were furloughed or laid off in anticipation of reduced business. However, business remained strong, and in many cases, increased. This uptick in business has forced law firm management to review and update procedures to make sure that all employees remain part of the team.
Most firms have not yet encountered many employees leaving voluntarily, but they should expect to in 2022. Many employees were in a “wait and see” mode during 2021, anticipating their year-end bonuses and annual increases.
It is important for employers to pay market rates for their employees, or they will end up spending more money in turnover and lost productivity—and, in some cases, lost clients. But compensation is only one piece of the puzzle. Employers have to focus on other aspects of employment.
Some employers are requiring their employees to be vaccinated, and some are requiring their unvaccinated employees to test frequently at the employees’ own expense. In certain jurisdictions, these requirements are mandated by the state. Health and safety, and compliance with the law, are paramount. However, it is also important, especially now, to be as accommodating as possible in order to maintain and attract essential talent.
Hybrid Work Environment
Employees are now weighing their long and expensive commutes against the new hybrid model. Working from home, even part of the time, provides the employee with greater convenience, safety, and security. Law firm leadership, however, continues to carry the weight of managing the employees and practices of the firm. This new work-from-home/hybrid environment has presented new challenges, with varying degrees of success. Many lawyers have issues with limited administrative support. And many younger professionals are being deprived of critical mentorship and interactive guidance.
Law firms need to be demographically representative of the general population. This will attract more talent as well as a wider range of clientele. A firm cannot hire a token attorney and expect that person to remain with the firm for any length of time. In today’s environment, developing diverse talent will make the firm more profitable by keeping all its talent and keeping/attracting a diverse portfolio of clients.
This topic has been discussed more in the past two years than probably at any other time. It is quite a challenge to develop a productive and warm firm culture when many of the firm’s employees are working remotely. Some firms have set up specific days of the week for specific areas of practice, attorneys, and their support staff, to report to work. Others are still grappling with who should come into the office and when.
It may make sense to initiate a mentorship program in your firm. Mentorship programs usually have a very beneficial effect on the overall environment. People generally feel engaged, since the mentee will have to feel comfortable discussing challenging issues with the mentor, and more employees will be pleased that they are working for such a progressive firm.
To maintain talent, employees need to feel that they are valued, so a constant dialogue where feedback is encouraged is important.
Marketing Activities and Business Development
All firms have a website, and most are available on various forms of social media. This helps develop their brand and can even be referred to as “defensive marketing.” It is required. However, most firms are still obtaining business from current clients and referrals. While websites and social media are how a firm wishes to be perceived, referrals and recommendations are much more significant. Networking may seem “old school” and too interactive for marketing given the environment caused by COVID-19, but it still has its benefits even if it is performed remotely. It makes good business sense for partners and associates to participate together in networking groups. With in-person activities being restricted or cancelled, leadership should make an extra effort to remain engaged with the community.
These marketing activities are important for maintaining and attracting clients. Keep in mind that current personnel and potential talent are paying attention to how a firm is perceived in the marketplace as well. Leaders want their talent to feel good about where they are working. Everyone is needed to promote the firm.
It is important to have regular discussions with current talent as to what the firm can do to make the workplace more productive and engaging for everyone. Leadership should initiate these discussions and pay attention to the feedback—and feedback should be requested more than annually during a review process.
One factor that can seriously impact employee retention is how well employees can grow within the firm. People must understand that they are part of the growth and future of the firm, or employees will go elsewhere. Training is important, but honest feedback that is requested is also necessary. People need to feel as though they are valued.
Training and Team Building
Training is a vital part of team building. It not only makes employees more productive and efficient, but it also encourages interaction and connection. Employees need to feel connected to stay engaged. Team Building requires more than just training. Frequent meetings to discuss procedures and processes help improve workflow efficiency. But even social interaction is important. The occasional work lunch, organized birthday party, holiday party, and office recognition for a job well done goes a long way to building a tight-knit working unit.
Leadership should encourage, and even provide, outside help to alleviate mental and emotional stress. Discussion meetings, available counseling, meditation sessions, and even exercise classes can relieve stress and help to improve overall morale.
Meetings to discuss all types of work-related issues provide an effective way of staying transparent. They can help leadership monitor the pulse of their workforce and provide a venue to keep employees informed and engaged. Employees feel much more engaged when leadership trusts them enough to keep them in the loop.
Law firms need to be as accommodating as possible during this COVID epidemic to maintain and attract talented workers. Diverse talent is more important than ever. Mentorship has become challenging during the new hybrid environment and has become an even greater issue for employees. Participating in internet networking groups can also provide a clever way to attract new talent. To maintain talent, employees need to feel that they are valued, so a constant dialogue where feedback is encouraged is important. Every employee needs to be part of, and feel integral to, the team. Many in the workforce today are suffering from this pandemic and may need outside help—whether it be through meditation or counseling or meeting with others. Now more than ever, communication is critical and the more transparent a firm appears, the more likely people will want to participate, thrive, and contribute.
Written by CARET Legal partner, Gail Ruopp. Gail Ruopp has acquired more than 25 years of professional experience in senior law firm management, initiating best practices in administrative operations, including: financials, accounting, lateral recruiting, personnel, day-to-day operations, systems management, and firm marketing.