Guest comment: The post-pandemic recruitment race

Nathan Peart, managing director at Major, Lindsey & Africa, says companies need to become flexible or lose their best employees.

Without much choice, the legal industry became flexible last year. Even companies that worked from home before the pandemic had to get on board. Through the lens of recruiting, this has made the reality of life in a law firm clear – without the fancy offices, the food and drink, and the camaraderie of the teams, employees have thought about the core of their jobs and what they are increasing in return for Workload and the blurring of lines get between work and home. Many wonder if their company is all that matters.

Now that the industry is preparing to return to the office, companies can no longer ignore the needs and wants of employees. You have to make bold decisions, which can certainly be considered radical, in order to retain and recruit the best young talent.

It’s no secret that this generation wants flexibility, but that doesn’t always mean working from home. It can also be flexible working hours or working overseas for certain parts of the year. Indeed, this point in time could be a real opportunity to play with new ideas to gain more flexibility in our historically desk-based model.

It is also clear that this generation has proven that it can work successfully from home. Faced with a national lockdown almost overnight, young lawyers stepped in, adapted, and worked even harder to deliver for the partners. Remote working issues were soon fixed. Then why are companies unwilling to give up a little control after more than 12 months of this model?

Partnerships that close the shutters and don’t have an honest conversation with employees will suffer from their brand. Unless firms develop a new model, young lawyers will see what others are doing and think, “Why isn’t my firm doing this?” Freshfields, Norton Rose Fulbright, and Taylor Wessing all have publicly committed to allowing their attorneys to spend up to 50% of the week at home, and flexibility is rife in the US with Kirkland & Ellis introducing new laptops for juniors at home and White & Case offers buy agile work since 2016.

If you stick to the “bum-on-your-seat” model, resentment will quickly build up – especially when partners are already damaging juniors’ mental health through screaming briefings and midnight phone calls. Will an employee really stay in this office culture for 50 hours a week when companies around the corner embrace the flexible revolution? Those who pull their feet and stick to the pre-pandemic status quo will see staff jump the ship. they are already doing it.

The openness to flexible working is also playing an increasingly important role in overcoming the mental health crisis in the industry. Removing long distances can relieve daily pressures, and having a distant structure allows people to work in quieter environments and move away from potentially toxic cultures. Employees’ eyes have been opened to this and they are now asking for flexibility after being locked to protect their sanity.

In the long run, part-time roles or job shares could go a long way in supporting mental health, although this is currently uncommon. Could this even cause the profession to look for ways to reconfigure the billable hours system? Reducing exposure to target hours could ease the pressures that often lead to mental health deterioration.

The directive must bring about change. Take a look at how diversity and inclusion policies are evolving and see how customers who push back make companies more accountable for the composition of their teams. We are approaching this point with billable hours and mental health – will customers continue to employ firms that work juniors into the ground? Timely delivery for customers is a given, but it doesn’t mean that companies can’t think outside the box and consider alternative approaches.

Flexible work policies that anchor mental health support are no longer just nice to have. Change is underway, but which companies will be remembered as pioneers and which will bring up the rear? Take a look at where employees congregate and you will quickly see. With a greater appreciation for remote working, younger lawyers keep getting louder when it comes to giving their sanity a little bit of consideration. It will be the companies that listen carefully to retain the best talent.

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