The Great Resignation – Fact or Fiction? (Part 2)

13 May 2022 Law Staff

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​The Great Resignation – Fact or Fiction? (Part 2)

As you may have read in Part 1 of this article, we had determined through extensive research that the Great Resignation was in fact upon us, and had very much been gaining momentum over the past 12 months. In Part 2 of this series, we discuss what other factors have contributed to the great resignation; and … whether or when should you make a move in your career.

As an organisation that has guided literally thousands of lawyers on their career journeys, Law Staff has seen a vast number of employment cycles over the past 3 decades. Statistics are the only reliable source of upward shifts and down cycles, yet there needs to be a sufficient period to credibly evaluate the number of resignations that have occurred, and what was driving that churn. Were there economic factors, career advancement, cultural dynamics, or other influences that drove this change? We unpack each of these later in this article.

This year, 976 lawyers specifically in Brisbane have changed employers. Nine hundred and seventy six!

Recent economic trends aside, we also see critical markers in a lawyer’s career. The first is soon after the completion of their formal training as it is not unusual for a lawyer to transition from one firm to another at the 2 to 3 year post admission mark. This coincides with the completion of any rotations or initial post-admission years of training and this milestone also marks an increase in confidence as they have become more self-sufficient in matter management, which also makes them attractive to other employers.

In addition, the 2 to 3 year PAE mark can be a time in a lawyer’s career to make decisions towards areas of specialisation. In essence, their formative years can often define their future. If a current employer can’t offer the option to specialise or to transition to an alternate practice area, that person may look elsewhere to satisfy that career interest.

The 5 to 6 year post admission level is another time-stamp for introspection as lawyers will often take stock and evaluate their position – many asking themselves – “Is my current employer where I want to be long term?”; “Can I achieve Partnership (and is that something I want) or is this the time to move to an In-House Counsel position?” This is also a time when lawyers are competing for elevation to Senior Associate level, and if their aspirations are not met at their current firm then they may look elsewhere for that recognition.

Career progression aside, we can say with certainty that we have witnessed instability in some practices - not the profession as a whole - as well as an increased demand for lawyers due to growth in business opportunity.

From an instability perspective, this has been endemic within business culture (or lack thereof) where a toxic team environment may be present which has been conceived through poor leadership, or where maverick/recalcitrant behaviours within the team have been left unchecked and the issue allowed to fester.

Lack of reward has been the next highest contributing factor to instability, followed closely by the uncertainty of business financial viability with the latter tending to be seen only in start-ups and not the many specialist firms in areas such as M&A, Property, Dispute Resolution, P&E, etc as the Principals of those practices have usually had their commercial acumen honed from within their prior larger and well-managed environments.

Other factors influencing career change has been the demand from in-house legal teams as many General Counsels have been instructed by their respective CEO’s to tighten their external legal spend and have therefore increased their headcount (as much as commercially practical) to manage the legal demands of the company internally.

Insofar as private practice, there has been redefined business strategy due to 2 years of Covid-induced change forced upon the legal profession, and some of these are presenting new and interesting career paths. This change has caused demand. And this demand has descended on the profession with a crescendo, and simultaneously, resulting in what Law Staff refers to as theWar for Talent. Everyone wants Talent now and they are aggressive in how they are attempting to satisfy this need.

So, when is the right time to move? The right answer is when ‘You’ are ready. We don’t know how long this demand will continue at the pace it is currently running at, but we genuinely believe it will be here for a while to come.

There is currently an abundance of roles, with many segments providing up to 7 options per lawyer – something the profession has not seen since the early 90’s.

A number of these are career-defining opportunities with some very savvy lawyers making incredible advancement in their careers, not usually able to be achieved in a passive market. You might know one or two of these people, and when you heard about it you may have sat back in your chair, scratched your head, and wondered how the hell they managed to secure that role.

The answer may hurt, but it is simply that these fortunate individuals managed toanswer when that opportunity knocked.Occasions like these can manifest in a number of ways – it can sometimes be a direct approach by a client you act for; or it can be discreetly presented to you by a consultancy you are working with. For that consultancy to achieve your career objectives, there needs to be trust. They need to appreciate your skillset, most importantly, they need to understand what your career drivers and your demographic interests are. With this awareness and appreciation, they then feed you with advance knowledge of new roles coming onstream – resulting in some of these appointments made off-market and never advertised.

When this occurs, it generally receives applause from peers, acknowledging … “that was a very wise career move!

Now, if your current employment is putting your feet to sleep, then perhaps it is a good time to consider your options … dip your toe in the water … listen to the market … and when an exceptional opportunity presents itself then do not hesitate. Be fully informed by gaining access to credible information, and … ask for guidance from someone who understands your skillset and interests.

Author: Trudy Reading

Editor: Craig Ashton-Sward