Survey: Culture change seeping into legal industry

By Thomas Franz
BridgeTower Media Newswires

DETROIT — Recent data shows that a flexible work arrangement is becoming more desired by professionals in the legal industry.

In a survey conducted by Robert Half Legal in Southfield, 28 percent of lawyers said that after salary, flexible work arrangements provide the greatest incentive for legal professionals to remain with an employer.

Other key incentives were challenging work (26 percent) and professional development opportunities (20 percent).

Jonathan Chudler, a recruiting manager for Robert Half, pointed to technology as the key driver in the new statistic.

“It seems to me that there’s been a change in business culture generally that’s starting to seep into the legal community as well. Because of how widespread online access is, now you can connect to your own business’ network and work anywhere. Technology has allowed that,” Chudler said. “My sense is that over several years it’s made people think if I can do everything I’m doing anywhere, why do I have to be here.”

While workers want to spend more time away from the office, a desire to also have challenging work is a result of wanting the best of both worlds, Chudler said.

“They want the work they do to be interesting and challenging intellectually. That doesn’t necessarily mean challenging in terms of increasing their hours,” Chudler said. “Sometimes they go hand-in-hand, I think people want to be motivated and challenged by something that challenges them intellectually while at the same time striking a balance with their personal life.”

Joseph J. Shannon, a member at Bodman PLC’s Detroit office, said retaining good talent is difficult, and he’s noticed a trend of attorneys moving toward in-house positions.

“That would tend to suggest that people younger than 40 are less sensitive to pay as opposed to work-life balance. They’re not necessarily willing to do the same things we thought they should do in order to have a chance to obtain partnership at a major law firm,” Shannon said. “I don’t know if there’s a lot law firms can do if someone wants a 9-5 job, because they believe an in-house position is a 9-5 job.”

Rather than try to change the economics of law firm business, Shannon said Bodman has been trying to address secondary causes for attrition.

“What Bodman can do to stem that trend, and there are lots of things out of our control, is to try as much as possible to address culture issues,” Shannon said. “We’re trying to define a vision for people so they see themselves as part of a collaborative team working together for common goals.”

Ronald G. DeWaard, a partner at Varnum LLP in Grand Rapids, said work-life balance as become a top-of-mind issue for legal hiring and attorney satisfaction.

“New law school graduates are very interested and more focused on quality of life than perhaps generations in the past to some degree,” DeWaard said. “We have committees focused on that, retention and the needs of adjusting what we’re doing based upon how people feel about their general well-being. We have a number of programs that address those things and I think we have more flexible work approaches.”

Shannon said hiring talent hasn’t lagged because of the emerging trend in workplace culture, but he has noticed it’s becoming harder to find people who desire to make a career at a firm.

“Finding people who are committed to a long-term future is a little more difficult. That’s probably the biggest challenge, is finding those people who are committed to building a career as opposed to just looking for a job,” Shannon said. “Being a partner at a law firm is a function of building a career.”

Litigation work on the rise

Also included in the Robert Half survey was data on areas of the law in which lawyers believe will see the greatest number of employment opportunities for the first half of 2018.

Litigation earned 38 percent of the poll, while general business and commercial law was second with 12 percent.

Within litigation, insurance defense was cited by 48 percent of respondents as being the hot spot for work chances.

DeWaard said the uptick in litigation can be tied to the current state of the economy.

“My own view on it is that you usually see a great expansion in litigation after a period of robust economic growth and then you’ll see another large bump after a recovery period. Right now, I think we’ve had pretty sustained growth,” DeWaard said. “There’s just more deals, and more deals result in more litigation.”

DeWaard said intellectual property litigation also expands in times of a good economy.

“You also get more IP litigation because there’s such an expense in technology in general in the world today. You also have a lot of companies that are investing and seem to protect their technology. They have reason and the money to do so,” DeWaard said.