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BigLaw Firms During the 2021 Great Resignation and Navigating Forward

The "Great Resignation" has been going on for a while, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic should have halted this, but many companies are still reporting an influx of resignations. In September 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million who have quit their jobs amidst 10.4 million job openings.


The "Great Resignation" has drastically affected the legal industry, too. There are not enough associates to handle the work, and associates quit their jobs anywhere because of burnout and personal reasons.

Between January to May 2021, associate departures from the top ten most profitable NYC firms are numbered at 270—quite an all-time high considering that most of the transfers are to law firms not in the top ten NYC BigLaw firms. Now that is a crisis.
 

The Need for "More"


These departures reflect a generational shift and a demand for "more": more employment accommodations, more work-life balance, and more flexibility to work remotely. It is a world of associate war and BigLaw firms are desperate. Who would not be when tens of millions of dollars or more are at stake?

What are BigLaw firms doing to combat this issue? Sure they can throw money around, increase salaries and benefits and they are already doing that for a while. They have also introduced new benefits such as quarterly work trips worldwide and offering different bonuses. Still, these are not enough to keep employees from quitting.

If left to the status quo, businesses that cannot keep up with the changing times are doomed to fail. As such, they must undoubtedly rise from the existential crisis of whether to continue their traditional human resource practices or innovate something new to keep their talents.

This leaves a long-term effect on BigLaw recruiting. Here is an analysis of the factors some of the biggest law firms in the country are doing in the wake of the great resignation. Likewise, this article discusses how BigLaw should navigate 2022 and forward.
 

BigLaw firms are trying to make their associates' work-life balance more manageable.

 

To make work-life balance more manageable, BigLaw firms are now offering flexible hours and remote work options.

One firm is allowing their associates to work a four-day work week and not be required to check their emails on Fridays so they can have a more manageable life outside of the office. They also allow certain lawyers in this program to take one business trip per month as long as it does not require overtime or an overnight stay.

The future and now of BigLaw is remote work becoming a norm, offering more freedom at work and creating a more manageable life. Employers are working hard on creating a better environment for their associates by providing them with new ways of managing and maintaining themselves in both personal times and in a professional setting. The hope is that this will help alleviate the workload and burnout that associates are experiencing. This is an effective way to keep associates in the company and maintain a good relationship with them.
 

Law firms are strengthening the networking and mentoring of their associates.

 

The demands in BigLaw can be downright pressure-inducing to associates, and if left unsupported, employers should expect a rapid increase in resignation rates. Associates are quitting in record number, so it makes sense for companies to invest in programs and services to give employees the tools they need to succeed.

Mentoring and networking opportunities are great solutions. These programs benefit the associate and the firm, so it is a win-win solution.

A number of BigLaw companies have created programs where they let their employees participate in social events and take on pro bono work to contribute to causes important to them. This arrangement allows for personal growth within the company while forming relationships with others. Focus should not only be on the work being done but also on how it impacts the employee.

In another example, one company has developed a mentoring program where associates are paired with more experienced lawyers to learn from them. This program is beneficial for both parties because the mentor gets an extra set of hands while the associate gains valuable insight and support on how they can excel at their job.

In other words, associates become more equipped in their ability to take on challenging and critical roles that lead to honing skills and talent in the workforce. At the same time, the associates' careers are further cemented, effectively leading to the retention and development of associates.
 

They are considering implementing a new policy where associates can take time off from work without fear of being penalized.

 

In the wake of unprecedented quitting jobs and en masse resignations, some companies and firms have created a new policy where associates can take time off from work without fear of being penalized.

Taking time off, with or without reason, has been shunned before in the legal profession. But with the current state of things, it might be a good idea for firms to allow their employees some breathing room.

Of course, this would come with guidelines to ensure that work is still being done properly while the associate is out of the office. But if done right, this could be an excellent way to keep the attorneys around for the long haul.

In an industry where associates are expected to work until they physically cannot anymore, the idea of taking time off without it being counted against an attorney is new and refreshing. By supporting their employees in this way, executives will see higher retention and lower resignation rates from their associates.
 

They have started a program that gives associates extra days off in place of receiving bonuses.

 


While monetary benefits effectively entice associates, this almost always only remains in the beginning. The employer must show its employees that they are valued and appreciated in other ways, and extra days off can be a start.

This policy change could help alleviate some of the stress that comes with working in BigLaw, on account of the long hours and high expectations. Firms are starting to understand that they need to take care of their associates if they want them to stay in their workforce. Many workers quit when they are working like machines only to drive revenue streams up. It is also a great way to show that the company is committed to its employees and wants them to be happy, leading to higher productivity and job satisfaction.
 

There will be no layoffs or forced resignations - they want to find ways to keep employee retention high.

 


Associates quit their jobs almost in a frenzied rush without regard to the economic effects of the pandemic, leaving BigLaw firms scrambling to identify replacements. Scales of demand are tilted in favor of associates; thus, there is no room for layoffs or forced quitting. Employers must now focus on keeping their special talent in the business and must gear planning towards making the associates' jobs more meaningful.
 

Navigating 2022 and forward


With the onset of the scarcity of associates sticking with BigLaw, firms are now considering hiring associates without subjecting them to stringent interviews. After all, the goal is to secure associates for the team, and with the dwindling supply from the lateral market, firms are willing to take it down a notch. Surely fuss-free and efficient, recruiters, however, are reluctant of its long-term effects.

Nonetheless, this measure is one step to mitigate the effects of the tremendous BigLaw resignation. Firms are still trying to grapple with what went wrong and how they can better their chances of keeping their associates in their workplace. However, it will be some time before this new policy can be assessed.

But the elephant in the room remains: will cutting down a stage in the hiring process make a lawyer stay for the long haul?

The pandemic has proven to have changed the landscape of the legal industry and 2022 shall pave for even greater change. One thing is definite: Gone are the days that associates vie for top-rank firms only for their positions and benefits. BigLaw market leaders need to rethink their processes and policies to address the changing needs of the changing times.

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