Written by Claire Sanders, General Counsel of Huel and co-founder of Being Human
In the next five years, over 50% of young lawyers will change workplace, 33% will move to a new legal profession and 20% will leave the profession entirely.
Surely that can’t be right? Not in this volatile financial landscape. Can it?
According to a quick Google search, being a lawyer “is a hallmark of prestige”, has fantastic earning potential, is intellectually challenging and provides a unique position to help people.
So why leave?
62% of young lawyers cite poor work-life balance as their main concern, with impact on mental health, the failure to address toxic workplaces and the lack of opportunities for growth also featuring high up on the list.
Money and prestige are no longer enough. Gen Z defines success around having a loving, healthy family. Promises of high compensation alone are not sufficient to attract and retain this generation. They want more. And understandably so. Recent events have forced us all to stop and think about what it is we value most in our lives.
But does this matter? Isn’t attrition just a cost of doing business?
Natural attrition maybe, but the level cited should at the least force a few questions, and at best kick-start the evolution to a kinder, more human industry. How long can the industry ignore the lost investment in junior lawyers who leave before they start to pay for themselves? How long can it consume the true cost of poor mental health (up to £45 billion annually in the UK)? How much more would be achieved if lawyers were thriving?
Matthew Syed references the legal profession when he discusses the difference between growth and fixed mindsets. The steadfast resolve to stick to the 6-minute increment to track time is, he suggests, a fine example of a fixed mindset; it works, so there is no need to look beyond it. It may well work at the moment, but when challenged, a fixed mindset can be catastrophic. Compare this to a growth mindset, where the focus is on what we can learn and how we can adapt to changing needs.
The legal industry is experiencing its biggest challenge to date and how it will fair is likely to depend on its openness to grow. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is no longer enough to justify decisions which ultimately cost the profession its talent and reputation, not to mention its profit.
I’m not suggesting we tear up the foundations of a profession that has its origins in ancient Greece and Rome but I am suggesting it is time to adapt to the changing demands of its lawyers. Let’s challenge the intellect of our brightest lawyers to redefine how the profession works – to use one of the main attractions of a career in law to shape its future.
We need those young lawyers who can see a different way to stick with it, to challenge the status quo and to progress change. Losing them isn’t just bad maths, it’s bad for the growth of the industry. So whilst we’re figuring out how we morph this behemoth to be ready for the demands of the new post-pandemic world, let’s empower those young lawyers with a voice that we listen to and an environment in which their needs are heard and included. These young lawyers are our future, let’s afford them the curiosity, courage and resilience they need to act as guardians for their generation and beyond.
Claire Sanders is General Counsel of Huel and a member of Crafty Counsel’s High Growth community group. Alongside lawyering, Claire is the co-founder of Being Human with her sister. Being Human is an exciting new project bringing learnings from the aviation, veterinary, medical and safety critical industries to the legal profession to empower lawyers (particularly junior lawyers) with the skills they need to thrive, maximising performance, minimising risk and optimising wellbeing. Join them at How to Thrive on 13th and 14th September 2023, a new event sharing practical skills to build resilience as a lawyer. To register your interest click here.