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Is the Legal Profession Immune to ‘The Great Resignation’?

Posted on Oct 14, 2021

There are a multitude of reasons why employees choose to leave their jobs, some of which are very specific to the individual. Occasionally, a paradigm shift might influence a large number of people to take action and quit their jobs around the same time. COVID-19 has brought this about in the United States and other parts of the world in what’s been labelled ‘The Great Resignation’. 

According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, more than 40% of the global workforce are considering quitting their job in 2021. An additional US study conducted by PwC survey in early August 2021 found that 65% of employees said they are looking for a new job and 88% of executives said their company is experiencing higher turnover than normal. 

With extended lockdowns and slower uptake of vaccinations, the re-opening of Australia is lagging behind other developed countries and the trend for mass resignations has not yet arrived on Australia shores. 

We conducted research with our partners at LinkedIn to analyse the top-end of the Private Practice Law market in Australia and the past 12 months has resembled more of a ‘Great Retention’ than ‘The Great Resignation’:

The Great Retention

  • On average, 17.2% of Senior Associates at top-tier firms change employers each year across Australia. This has dropped to just 7.1% over the past 12 months (and less than 6% in Melbourne) 
  • On average, 33.3% of Solicitors, Lawyers, Associates and Senior Solicitors (1-5 PQE) at top-tier firms change employers each year. This has dropped to 9.25% over the past 12 months. 

Possible Reasons

  • Major firms have adapted to working-from-home quite well, with good systems and IT setups to facilitate a relatively smooth transition.
  • Lawyers consider WFH to be much easier to do with their existing firm because they already have an existing relationship with their supervising Partner and an internal reputation to fall back on if their work is disrupted (e.g. kids interrupting while home-schooling). 
  • Onboarding in a new firm and establishing relationships with supervisors/colleagues via Zoom is difficult and starting out with a new employer while WFH is seen as high risk. This makes it very easy for people who otherwise would have changed jobs to ‘ride it out’ and wait until this uncertainty is behind us.

‘The Great Retention’ is a good indicator that many law firms in Australia have adapted well to COVID-19 and in this period of uncertainty, the majority of lawyers have stayed with their firm. 

However, it is still possible that the ‘The Great Resignation’ will eventually occur in Australia. It’s been predicted that many industries will start to see this happening early next year. If this is the case, then the higher-than-average retention rates seen in the legal profession over the past 12 months could be flipped in the new year. It’s possible we could see an unprecedented number of lawyers changing jobs in 2022.