How law firms can attract and retain top talent in 2024

Feb 13, 2024

Nearly two-thirds of legal professionals have experienced burnout due to their work according to new research from Realm Recruit. Of course, the legal sector is renowned for its long hours and heavy workloads. But law firms are facing growing challenges in attracting and retaining top talent.

More than a third (37%) of legal professionals have considered leaving their role due to poor mental health and wellbeing (Exizent).

These days, just offering a high salary is no longer enough to compensate for the long-hours culture. Lawyers are increasingly looking for roles that offer a good work-life balance, flexibility and wellbeing support.

Lawyers expect recruitment and retention to be one of the top three challenges in their law firms over the coming years. And recruitment issues are a major barrier to tackling heavy workloads and burnout – creating a vicious circle.

In this blog, we’ll be looking at how law firms can address this issue and break the cycle.

Work-life balance

Research shows that having a poor work-life balance is one of the biggest contributors to stress for lawyers – second only to unmanageable workloads  (Realm Recruit).

So, what can employers do to support their people and help them find a better work-life balance?

Flexible working practices can have a positive impact. According to research by Thomson Reuters, flexible working is the top driver for satisfaction amongst both male and female lawyers.

Hybrid and remote working can also play an important role. Having the option to work remotely is regarded as a must by many – with video calls and meetings now commonplace following the pandemic. Remote working also offers many benefits for law firms – enabling them to recruit from a wider talent pool and reduce office overheads.

However, remote working can also bring challenges – leading to an‘ always switched on’ work mentality. So, employees and employers need to work together to ensure agreed boundaries and time away from tech. Law firms are already taking action to mitigate tech overload. For example, in 2022, Slaughter and May introduced limits on when employees could check emails at weekends.

But remote working does have its downsides. Collaborative working can sometimes prove more difficult when you’re working remotely. Employees can feel a degree of isolation, and even loneliness, and lose their sense of community.

So, law firms need to find ways to support remote working and, in some cases, encourage staff to spend more time together in the office. This could be through wellbeing programmes or on-site teambuilding activities, such as art and craft classes and charitable events.

Legal tech, AI and automation

Legal tech can also aid recruitment and retention. Automation tools can streamline processes and reduce the time spent on tedious, repetitive tasks – such as data entry and document creation. This means that legal professionals can focus on high-value tasks with a bigger strategic impact – helping them feel more valued and more likely to stay with their employer.

With AI likely to play a growing role in the legal sector over the coming months and years, law firms should be looking at how they can embed automation in their process to aid recruitment and retention.

Employee benefits and perks

Another way to support employees is through on-site employee benefits. This might involve corporate perks such as on-site travel desks (to organise personal holidays) and dry cleaning services. This kind of benefit enables employees to delegate specific home tasks or chores to a dedicated corporate partner – giving them back valuable time in their day. It’s likely that this type of benefit will become an increasingly central part of the employee reward package over the coming years.

Employee wellbeing

Lawyers typically work in high-pressure environments that can put them at high risk of stress and mental burnout. Constant stress can lead to lawyers feeling overwhelmed and drained – which impacts on mental wellbeing, job satisfaction and productivity.

There is a growing awareness around mental health issues in the legal profession. But, sadly, in some areas, there is still some stigma surrounding this problem. Employees may not want to approach their employer for help, fearing an adverse impact on their careers.

Wellbeing charity Law Care has seen a 24%increase in the number of legal professionals reaching out for support in the past year. According to the charity, lawyers are often overwhelmed and stressed due to heavy workloads, unrealistic targets and the current cost-of-living crisis.

Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO, LawCare said: "The legal workplace is characterised by inherent psychosocial risks to mental health – working long hours, poor work-life balance, meeting the expectations of demanding clients, heavy case loads, the pressure of deadlines and billing targets, whilst maintaining high standards of ethical and professional conduct.


“Employers need to accept there are risks to mental health in the accepted working practices in law and take steps to mitigate, modify or remove these risks.”


So, law firms need to encourage their managers to check in regularly with their teams and have honest conversations around mental health and wellbeing. At a corporate level, firms need to embed mental health policies in the workplace as well as making resources and support available and visible.

But law firms can also support employees in other ways – from paid wellbeing days through to counselling and subsidised/free gym membership – all designed to promote good physical and mental health.

A shift in attitudes

Law firms are shifting their focus more towards staff wellbeing – recognising its pivotal role in staff engagement, job satisfaction, productivity and, crucially, retention.

Recent wellbeing initiatives in the legal community have included the Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce, initiated by the Law Society in partnership with other legal organisations, and the City Mental Health Alliance for City legal workers. 

But are these initiatives leading to real change in the workplace? Realm Recruit’s research found that that mental health first aiders were available at 58% of respondents’ workplaces – more than 10% higher than the previous year. Likewise, 54% now offered free or subsidised access to a counsellor – up from 47.5% in 2021.

But despite these changes, nearly a third of respondents (31%) said that they didn’t feel that their wellbeing was supported by their employer.

There’s no doubt that there’s still more work to be done.

Rising to the challenge

Undoubtedly, there’s been a sea change in terms of what employees have come to expect from their legal employers in recent years. The pandemic has prompted many lawyers to reflect on their work-life balance and what they want from their careers. Increasingly, lawyers are no longer willing to stay in roles that don’t meet their needs.

Law firms will need to evolve to meet these challenges. By creating a supportive, inclusive and open working culture, employers can better support their people and improve staff engagement, wellbeing and productivity – which can only be good for business.


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