In-House Lawyers, Get Ready for the Great Resignation

By Andrew Murdoch, Managing Director, Dovetail Legal Solutions

As published on the Association of Corporate Counsel News Page, October 27 2021

The Great Resignation will cause change, and with a little bit of knowledge and preparation you can use it as an opportunity for career growth and fulfilment.

 

What is the Great Resignation?

The term “Great Resignation” was coined in the United States post COVID, when an unusually large number of employees resigned from their jobs. The Wall Street Journal reported that between April and August 2021 people handed in their resignations at a rate 60% higher than the corresponding period last year and 12% higher than in 2019, “when the job market had been the hottest it had been in almost 50 years”.

It is anticipated that a similar trend will occur in Australia. A recent PwC report [1] surveyed 1,800 Australian workers, from the frontline to the back office, and found that 38% are planning to leave their job over the next 12 months. Additionally, a Microsoft Report [2]of over 30,000 people found that 41% of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year, with 46% planning to make a major pivot or career transition.

 

Why is The Great Resignation Occurring?

1.     Pent Up Demand to Change Jobs

Put simply – there’s a backlog of 2 years’ worth of in-house lawyers that would have changed roles had it not been for COVID. With the end of lockdowns and renewed economic confidence, this backlog of job seekers will hit the in-house legal job market.

The uncertainty around the economy during COVID caused lawyers to stay in roles longer than originally planned, preferring economic stability and workplace familiarity. Also, those who did want to move jobs were faced with a shortage of opportunities to move to.

A buoyant economy helps create a fluid job market through the creation of new jobs and providing lawyers with the confidence to change roles. The forecast economic bounce back from COVID, supported by extra savings worth $230bn sitting in bank accounts, together with many property owners feeling 20+% wealthier, for no other reason than owning real estate, will create an environment ripe for job creation and movement.

2.     Lawyers Heading Overseas

Lawyers who would previously have travelled overseas to develop their careers have been stuck in Australia for almost 2 years. They will now seek to leave, increasing an already tight market.

Lawyers are dusting off their passports and will be welcome in many countries who are also suffering skills shortages. British and international firms see Australia as fertile grounds to source quality lawyers and are planning significant recruitment drives across Australia that will particularly target those lawyers at the 2-to-8 level – a component of the legal market that is already under resourced. With the inability to travel over the past two years and salaries in London and New York hitting all time highs, I suspect there will be no shortage of interested applicants. Starting salary at top firms in London have recently hit £100,000 (AUD$184K!). While there will also be incoming lawyers, the delay in Australia opening up to international arrivals will initially cause a one-way brain-drain.

3.     Lawyers Seeking Alignment with Values

Lawyers have used the time during COVID to reflect and prioritise their values, however many organisations have been slow to adapt to their expectations. This expectation gap will fuel the desire to seek jobs that more closely align with their beliefs and lifestyle.

A recent report by PwC highlights a significant gap between what senior leaders believed their workers ranked employee value proposition preferences, versus the reality from those workers. The top 3 priorities for workers being: (i) Working alongside good co-workers; (ii) work life balance; and (iii) pay. A report conducted by Microsoft of 30,000 people across 31 counties found that, compared to last year, 39% of people say they’re more likely to be their full, authentic selves at work and 31% are less likely to feel embarrassed or ashamed when their home life shows up at work.

4.     Boomers Leaving the Market

Love them or loathe them, Boomers are facing up to their mortality; many have been separated from family for the past 2 years, they are generally well off (thanks to us Gen X’ers) and now is a good time to leave the workforce. The number of Australians being added to the 65+ cohort every year will rise during this post-pandemic decade passing 126,000 in 2021.

 

When will the Great Resignation Occur?

It will commence in March 2022 and continue through the year… well that’s my guess.

Lockdowns will end, people will breathe a sigh of relief, let off some steam, take extended Christmas holidays to reconnect with friends and family, collect their end of year bonus, and… make their new year’s resolution to change jobs. They will enjoy their holidays during January and then look to ramp up their job search. Meanwhile, lawyers will also be heading to London and New York to seek their fortune.

 

Why Should You Care?

You’re not considering changing jobs

Imagine if 41% of people in your team left and not just your team, but 41% of the organisation… what would it look like? What would it mean for you? How would you feel? Even if you don’t change your job, your workplace could look and function vastly different from how it appears now.

You are one of the 41% looking to change jobs

The in-house legal job market is like a game of musical chairs, it takes a person to leave to create a space in an existing role. There will be plenty of empty chairs and new chairs being added – so many chairs it may be difficult to choose which to sit in. Additionally, it is already an applicant-short market, with talented in-house lawyers in short supply. A wonderful, once in a lifetime opportunity to be looking for a new role that will advance your career and align with your values!

 

What can you do?

Either way, you have about 5 months…  your time starts now!

Staying and Leading a Team?

  • What do you need to do to retain your key members? Talk with them, conduct an internal audit to determine engagement.
  • Bridge any expectation gap – you need to start now.
  • Pro-actively develop a plan with your HR team to identity key team members and minimise impact from those that leave
  • Develop a plan with the business to implement upon a resignation. Do you offer a “buy back”? Do you expect people to work their notice period? Do you place them on gardening leave?
  • Know the terms of the employment contracts:-
    • What are the notice periods?
    • Restraint of trades?
    • How much leave do they have accrued?
  • Succession plans for everyone in your team – if someone left, what do you need to bring a new team member up to speed as quickly as possible?
    • Job descriptions up to date
    • Processes documented and mapped
    • Details of internal and external stakeholders
    • Passwords
    • Templates captured and documents labelled, filed and searchable
    • Knowledge and knowhow captured in a format that can be readily transferred – ie video guides
  • What would happen if key stakeholders in the business left – COO/CIT etc? What can you do to minimize impact?
  • Opportunity to grab talent from competitors. While 41% of your team may be looking, the same can also be said of your competitors – for example, I am talking with a client who is already being proactive about connecting with potential future talent who may become available from other organisations in the same industry.

Staying and Part of a Team

  • Identify who you think will leave – you know who they are, and then think about what your workplace looks like without them. Who will do their work? Can you do their work?
  • Could it offer an opportunity for a promotion, upskilling, pay rise, a move into a new role?

Regardless of whether you are part of a team or leading a team… if you’re staying, it’s a great time to think about what it is you would like from your role and ask for it, particularly as it’s already a tight labour market. Is it a pay rise, greater flexibility, further education, an extended vacation? As the one staying, while others leave, your value to the business may increase – you become the keeper of corporate knowledge, the kernel from which the team can grow.

Thinking of Leaving

If you’re part of the 41% looking to leave their role, then you need to get job search ready. I have previously written an article Practical Tips When Looking For Your Next Role in the May 2020 edition of the Australian Corporate Lawyer Magazine which provides a comprehensive guide to ensuring you are in the best position possible. The key points being:-

  • Take control of the situation and treat it like a project—there are lots of practical steps you can take to get ready and be best placed when the right role becomes available.
  • Never has there been so much information or so many people available to assist each of us in achieving our job goals—use this. Read the books, meet the people, expand your network, watch the videos.
  • There is always room for improvement; remember you are just looking to be at least 1% better than the other candidates. Practise your interview technique and have someone you trust review your CV.
  • Persistence and perseverance pay dividends.
  • Stay positive and view the period of change as an exciting opportunity.

 

Summary

With a little bit of effort and knowhow the Great Resignation is a once in a work-life opportunity to grow your career and align your job with your lifestyle.  Feel free to get in touch with us at Dovetail if you’d like any assistance making the most of the upcoming opportunities.


[1] “The Future of Work – What workers want”, PwC 2021

[2] The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?, Microsoft March 2021

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