Stellar Performance 2022 Report: The Post-Pandemic State of Stand-out Lawyers

Thomson Reuters’ newly published “Stellar Performance 2022: A Survey of Stand-out Talent” report closely examines how law firms are managing their talent in the post-pandemic landscape.

The impact of the pandemic on the way we work continues to be felt, even as the crisis itself continues to wane in much of the world. Still, forced lockdowns and a larger reliance on remote working compelled many organisations to dramatically alter how, when, and where their employees worked.

In the legal industry, this compulsion was keenly felt. And now, many law firms and other legal organisations are looking to use the lessons of the pandemic to forge post-pandemic work strategies that will elevate their employees while increasing efficiency and enhancing effectiveness.

Stellar Performance 2022: A Survey of Stand-out Talent is the 6th annual report published by Thomson Reuters, which closely examines law firms’ talent strategy in the post-pandemic era.

The report takes an in-depth look at what the state of stand-out talent looks like, what can push stand-out lawyers to leave their current firms, and what can be done to retain them. Further, the report explores how engagement, culture, and compensation can each impact firms’ talent strategy.

This report discusses the findings of a self-completed web survey, distributed to lawyers who were nominated as stand-out lawyers in Thomson Reuters’ ongoing, randomly sampled Sharplegal survey of clients. This year, 2,457 stand-out lawyers responded to the survey — 89% of whom were law firm partners.

Using this input, the report lays out key talent challenges faced by law firms today and how firms might best address them. For example, the report notes that even as virtual client relationship management has become commonplace, most law firms are finding it much harder than before to connect with new prospects due to the continued absence of in-person networking and business development opportunities.

This clearly indicates that it’s more important for firms today to leverage existing client relationships, and the report also shows one way that can be accomplished. Having three or more stand-out lawyers on a team can make a big impact on how much of current clients’ legal spend goes to that firm. That means even as virtual client relationship management may still hold clout, a firm looking to boost its revenue from established clients should ensure that its bank of stand-out lawyers is visible across the client accounts that have the strongest growth potential.

The report also suggests ways that firm management and colleagues can focus on recognition and appreciation of the efforts and contributions made by individual lawyers. Indeed, each lawyer within the firm can act on this initiative by informally acknowledging the work of their colleagues on both a day-to-day basis and for more substantial achievements. Seemingly small changes — even a simple, Thank you! —  when replicated by many individuals across the firm, can build a positive culture of change that’s capable of making a big impact.

Other key findings in this year’s report include:

  • Law firms need to be on guard against high lawyer turnover, especially among new associates — The report states that associates are at especially high flight risk right now. And while the associates surveyed told us that compensation is their main concern, our research shows that a host of other cultural factors — such as flexible working schedules, better communication and engagement, and support for mental well-being — also contribute to better associate retention.
  • Firm leaders should work to boost connections with colleagues in hybrid work environments — At firm-wide level, firm and team leaders should seek opportunities to bring all colleagues together in new and innovative ways both formally and informally. Leaders may have to reconsider firm values and determine whether they should consult the workforce on a potential refresh to better reflect the new working norms caused by the pandemic. Importantly, the report notes that everyone should be particularly conscious of the differing needs of more junior lawyers who may have missed out on the level of feedback and mentoring available to their predecessors in pre-pandemic times.
  • Firms should not overlook the role leadership and strategy plays in retention — The manner in which law firm leaders and managers interact with lawyers is critical in those lawyers’ decision to either leave or stay with their firms. Firms should genuinely engage with lawyers at all levels to ensure their top talent doesn’t look elsewhere.
  • Firm culture is critical to lawyer engagement and job satisfaction — The overall tenor of working life, whether it’s feeling included and visible, or being treated in a manner that’s friendly and respectful, as well as clearly defined opportunities for career progression, advancement, and professional growth are all strong contributors to higher employee engagement among stand-out lawyers, the report shows. In order to maintain an engaged workforce and defend against other firms poaching their stand-out talent, firms need to ensure that the foundations of a good work culture are present.
  • Lawyer compensation is rapidly increasing, and firms should have a plan for this — The report notes an overall 16% increase in mean annual compensation among lawyers. For firms to remain competitive in the compensation packages that they offer, firms must measure their own evaluations and craft a clear strategy, especially in today’s hot market for legal talent.

Finally, the report reminds law firm leaders that every lawyer at every level can contribute to the success of the firm by playing an active role in creating a culture that identifies, attracts, nurtures, and retains stand-out talent.

This article and executive summary originally featured on Thomson Reuters Institute and was republished with permission.

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