Not infrequently we work with people on development programmes and workshops who, to put it charitably, are not exactly 'on fire' with enthusiasm for their job or their firm. Most of them are not doing a poor job but they are not performing anywhere near as well as they could be - meaning that both firm and lawyer suffer. They frequently feel stuck and undervalued in the role and would prefer to be doing something different – or differently. This is not where optimal performance or job satisfaction comes from. From the wider business perspective this also creates vulnerability; the risk of good people being poached by other firms - always a concern - becomes greater.
What does it take to attract and retain good people who are committed and perform well?
It’s about needs and motivations not pay and promotions
In the legal sector, as in most others, it isn't always possible to throw money or promotion at people in the hope that they'll stay. Even when this is possible, disappointment can follow when they leave anyway. One law firm partner recently told me how surprised he'd been at the recent departure of a very promising senior associate as she had just been promoted, given a good bonus and recently returned from very favourable maternity leave provision. He felt irritated at the lack of loyalty and appreciation this expressed. But this shouldn't surprise us; it has long been established that for knowledge-based work, providing such external rewards does not motivate most people enough.
Early results from Managing Change’s UK Lawyer survey suggest 30% of respondents do not anticipate staying with their firm for more than a further year or two.
So what are good lawyers looking for in a firm?
Flexibility and Agility
According to the recent Hydrogen UK survey, of the benefits lawyers look for on joining, 81% of women and men seek opportunities for flexible or agile working. Given the choice between a pay rise and flexible working only 5% chose the pay rise while 53% chose the flexible working option.
Our own UK Lawyer Survey indicates that of those surveyed to date, just 25% currently work flexibly but crucially of those, a huge 85% consider that they are very well supported by their firm in doing so.
In contrast to some sectors, in the law sector long hours seem less of a problem. Whilst 4 in 10 say that they consistently overwork the vast majority of these said that they were happy with the hours they work, many commenting that they accepted these hours as a reasonable part of the job. So it’s flexibility rather than total hours which is key.
Within all sectors, it is essential to consider each individual's needs and motivations if we want to ensure optimal performance and satisfaction. Understanding their career aspirations, working style and characteristics, and their personal motivators enables them and their colleagues and management to engage optimally and responsively together. When we worked with the senior associate referred to earlier it was clear following coaching and psychometric assessment that what was most important to her was to have autonomy over her work and the opportunity to do challenging, meaningful work (in her case in a specific area of law around children in care). This was how she identified herself and what made each day worthwhile. Her new firm offered her those opportunities and a future she could identify with.
Developing this knowledge concerning needs and motivations about oneself and team members takes the guesswork and luck out of performance and retention. When we develop this understanding we can do something to act upon it – with powerful results.
In our survey the 30% of lawyers who considered their work to be optimally challenging, stimulating and satisfying were also those who anticipated staying at their firm for at least another 3-5 years. So, early results seem to confirm that providing lawyers with appropriate opportunities and experiences that meet their individual needs is linked to satisfaction and an intention to stay.
What about the rest, the other 70%, and what impact are they having on your firm?
Our confidential 2016 Lawyer Survey completes in the spring of 2017 and measures the career needs, aspirations and expectations of lawyers at different stages in their careers. If you would like to take part (and optionally enter our prize draw) or introduce it into your law firm please click here. Alternatively if you would like to run the survey across your firm to receive firm-wide only data do get in touch. We are conducting such surveys for a number of firms and providing them confidentially with their own results and comparison with the wider data set (all results will also be included anonymously into the wider sample).
Sarah Jaggers is an Executive Coach and Business Psychologist at Managing Change in Cambridge. E: firstname.lastname@example.org