Law firms should address behavioral issues to better retain their top lawyers, new paper says

Betty Q. Hixson

A new white paper discusses questions of lawyer uncertainty and how best to sustain and retain an engaged workforce in today’s hot legal labor market.

As the post-pandemic environment evolves into a one of robust competition to hire and retain the best legal talent (amid skyrocketing compensation costs), it’s little wonder that law firm leaders are focusing more attention on what they can do to get their people back to the office, increase their lawyers’ engagement and thereby reduce attrition; and hire more lawyers and increase the odds that those new hires will stay at the firm.

Fortunately, advances in behavioral science research have given the legal industry some solid guidance about what attracts workers, what keeps them engaged, and what makes them stay, according to a new white paper , written by Dr. Larry Richard, the Founder & Principal Consultant at LawyerBrain, and published digitally by the Thomson Reuters Institute. Dr. Richard is an expert in lawyer personality, managing change, and how to build up lawyers’ resilience in today’s legal environment.

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According to Dr. Richard, law firms must address questions around lawyer uncertainty, the habituation problem, and how best to create and sustain an engaged workforce in order to achieve the recruitment, engagement, and retention goals that law firm leaders say their firms need to thrive in the current environment.

While the paper goes into great detail on each of these questions and what law firms must do to properly address them in order to better retain their key talent, managing these three issues can offer the solution to managing lawyers behavior and creating stronger engagement that will make lawyers want to stay at their current firm.

Uncertainty— We all have a threat-sensing circuit in our brain, operating 24/7 to detect any possible threats that could harm us by constantly scanning for change, the paper says. Yet, many high-level threats are often complex and open-ended, and as a result, this threat-sensing circuit never achieves closure. Unfortunately, this may leave individuals hypersensitive, and it simply makes it much harder for them to be their normal selves at work.

However, you can manage for this with some simple steps, such as setting clear goals, focusing on what is stable, and creating routines and rituals. That means, the paper explains, that law firms can meet the uncertainty challenge by offering their lawyers more flexibility and allowing them to set their own pace for returning to the office.

Habituation — When the pandemic first swept across this country in March 2020, it suddenly forced us out of our offices and into a whole new way of working from home. However, after a few weeks of working in this new way, most of us accommodated to the changes by creating new work habits.

In the same way, those workers now being asked to return to work will require some adjustment. Yet, habits are tenacious and hard to change. However, the paper points out, there are ways that law firms can help people gradually shift to new habits that work that offer flexibility and re-enforce new working behaviors.

Engagement — Once a firm has restored some equilibrium to the workplace by adopting a flexible, gradual return-to-office policy, the paper notes that the final and most important step in retaining legal talent is to infuse the principles of engagement across the firm.

Again, the paper makes several recommendation to achieve this goal, including building “positive relational energy” and helping lawyers find deep purpose in their work. Management should also give people a chance to use their strengths every day in work and strive to get rid of toxic corporate cultures.

As law firm leaders work through this process to better retain their key talent, the paper reminds them that there are two intrinsic factors that are central to this process: i) how leaders treat people; and ii) what kind of work culture leaders create.

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Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias. Thomson Reuters Institute is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/law-firms-should-address-behavioral-issues-better-retain-their-top-lawyers-new-2022-06-06/

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