Publish date: 07 February 2022
Kelly Phelps

I don’t know about you, but my social feeds have been full of articles about the impending Great Resignation and the lack of available talent in the marketplace. Excellent – just one more threat for firm owners and managers to worry about as we emerge from the pandemic! 

There’s no denying it – staff turnover is expensive and can significantly impact culture, so is the Great Resignation  a real and present danger to Australian law firms or is it also an opportunity in disguise? 

In a new report from the International Bar Association (IBA), which surveyed 3,000 young lawyers (under 40) around the world:- 

  • 54% of those surveyed reported that they were “somewhat” or “highly likely” to move to a new workplace; 
  • 33% wanted to move to a different area of law; and 
  • 20% were considering leaving the profession entirely.  

Unsurprisingly, work/life balance and flexibility (or lack thereof) and mental health concerns were raised, as were barriers to career progression, salary and toxic workplace cultures. None of these findings came as a surprise to me, and these systemic issues have been discussed for some time – long before the pandemic – but Covid seems to have brought it all to a head. 

We find ourselves within a complex and interesting time to be leading a law firm. The IBA report also outlines seven key areas for action to mitigate the departure of young lawyers and protect the profession’s future. These include policies around work/life balance, addressing mental wellbeing concerns and staying on top of technology and training. 

With all this in mind and my rose-coloured glasses on, I am choosing to look at the Great Resignation as an opportunity for the profession as a whole to take an honest look at prehistoric norms, expectations and toxic cultures. There is a need for fundamental changes to be implemented industry-wide as the competition for talent increases. And these changes start at a grassroots level, from one firm to the next, big and small, each making essential changes (and not just talking about it!).  

In the wise words of Simon Sinek:

“Corporate culture matters. How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything for better or worse”.  

On a more micro level, I think we should be at peace with losing some employees who do need to move on for their personal fulfilment and see the opportunity in the moving labour market to find individuals who remain enthusiastic for the law and those who align with your firms’ values.  

Discussion: So are you wearing rose-coloured glasses and seeing the opportunity? Do you think we are experiencing the Great Resignation in Australia as they are overseas? Are you planning significant changes to protect your firms future and culture? Are you a young lawyer seeking a new role where your values align? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!  

As published in Lawyer Weekly

Kelly Phelps
Kelly Phelps
Chief Executive Officer & Partner
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