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Five Reasons Why Lawyers Leave Law Firms

February 17, 2021 0 Comments


Going into a new law job with high hopes is the way to go, but sometimes the job doesn’t work out.  Ellie Yoo, Gorilla Jobs’ legal recruitment specialist, has great insight into this issue. She tells us why things might not work out.

Our legal recruitment team are on a mission to get anyone looking for law jobs into their dream role, and we’re proud to say our placements most often end up very satisfied in their new roles.

But the reality is, sometimes it doesn’t work out and, just as with any other industry, lawyers can find themselves in a law firm that isn’t right for them. 

Why Lawyers Leave Law Firms 

Toxic work culture

It all starts with work culture, and if a lawyer in a law firm finds the culture toxic for them, it will often be the number one reason they leave.

With retention so important, ensuring management and the executive foster a positive work culture, particularly through leading by example, is imperative. The culture should be underpinned by mutual respect, common courtesy and high levels of professional conduct – without these, it’s more likely lawyers will feel dissatisfied and leave.

And, when troubles arise, having a transparent dispute resolution process shows your people that management is open to resolving issues rather than ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist.

Poor firm management and organisation

A toxic work environment can be a product of poor management. 

If management’s vision for the law firm is short-sighted – and all that matters is the billings – with no medium to long-term business plan for the direction the firm is taking, lawyers could be heading for the exit door. Laying out a vision or mission statement for new employees is one way to prevent this.

Another fracture point can come when structural change is required, for example when a merger occurs or if there is a break in a partnership. How management oversees and communicates this change is also integral to retention.

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Lack of career progression: Promotions and salary increases

Like many professionals, lawyers are generally ambitious and will come into a role wanting to grow and evolve, while being recognised and rewarded for this.

The road to formal recognition can be paved strategically by management. Exposing younger lawyers to more complex and challenging work gives them a clear pathway to both improving their professional skills and future promotions. Mentoring can be an integral part of this if it’s managed well and does not become overly onerous on the mentor or the mentee. 

Taking on younger lawyers and engaging them in a program of career progression also has other distinct advantages, such as:

  • Them being with the law firm over a longer period.
  • Moulding younger lawyers to the law firm’s style and ethos.
  • Bringing in new blood and a fresh perspective.

For mid-level lawyers doing standard legal work, producing billings and engaging in more executive duties, such as business development and mentoring junior lawyers, dissatisfaction can arise because their value is not being appreciated by the firm. This is where the more standard forms of recognition and progression such as a promotion or salary review will go far in retaining their services.

Disenchantment or lack of job satisfaction

Another retention factor connected to work culture is lack of job satisfaction. 

This can come about due to any of the factors previously listed but is also a product of other factors, such as wanting a “human element” in the way lawyers work. For example, a desire to offer legal services that more commercial/corporate practices don’t engage in. 

This disenchantment is partially feeding a small but growing hunger for lawyers looking to leave law firms so they can change practice areas and achieve greater job satisfaction tied to more than just money or working for well-known firms.

Fatigue with highly corporate environments or large teams

Although a year like 2020 threw our way the COVID-19 pandemic, which completely disrupted nearly every worker, lawyers included, it also opened up minds about modes and location of work. 

But pandemic aside, some lawyers reach a point where they want to “escape the rat race”, opting for more intimate work situations in boutique firms or smaller practices in remote or regional cities. The positive of working for these firms include:

  • The ability to form meaningful work relationships with co-workers and clients
  • Greater autonomy at work with the opportunity to work with clients from end-to-end
  • Being less siloed, with greater exposure to directly adjacent or interrelated practice
  • A lifestyle that supports a lawyer’s professional life

Ellie’s final words: “Communication is key and both parties need to be open and willing to have uncomfortable conversations and for firms to be reasonably flexible and accommodating.”

If you’re a lawyer looking for your next law job, contact Ellie in the Gorilla Jobs legal recruitment division so she and the team can help you find your next role. 

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We love what we do at Gorilla Jobs, and while there are challenges, we are always ready to help you as a candidate or recruiting organisation to ensure the best talent ends up in the best jobs. Reach out to us today if you have any questions!