How Can Law Firms Navigate the Talent Shortage?

Posted March 11th, 2022 by Urban Legal Recruitment

As industries worldwide face the Great Resignation, Canadian law firms must work around the talent shortage—but how? 

This post will offer insights into the legal talent drain and provide tips for law firms to work around the shortage. The idea is that with the right strategy and culture, employers can still hire skilled, top-qualified lawyers.

Insights into the legal talent shortage

Many firms are scrambling to hire lawyers, paralegals, and other talent, giving associates a leg up in the job market.

A spike in client demand, paired with a shortage of lawyers, has resulted in unprecedented competition for firms hiring entry-level, associate, and partner-track positions.

In simple terms, the hiring market is hot. And the talent shortage that came to light in 2021 shows no signs of slowing down.

The situation is so dire that a Reuters article states competition for lawyers was a key focus of every single Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group client meeting last year. 

In Canadian Lawyer Magazine, Sona Pancholy, President of Meritas, a global alliance of independent law firms, says that initially, legal employers adapted to the pandemic. They quickly found the technology and talent they needed to work remotely and continued to serve clients from a safe distance.

Then the Great Resignation came to light. Employers that tried to coax their teams back into the office realized associates were willing to resign in favor of “better” working conditions. What previously would have looked like an ultimatum no longer carried the same weight.

Amy Sheridan, former Hiring Partner at global firm Sullivan & Worcester, says it seems COVID-19 has caused lawyers to reevaluate their priorities, both in their careers and in their personal lives.

“Students and laterals are looking for firms that allow them to be authentic and have a meaningful, rich career and practice,” she explains. “They are looking for a professional home, not a way station.”

Sheridan goes on to describe that firms which once relied on conventional incentives (think money and prestige) have been forced to adapt. And unfortunately for those employers, not all firms have.

“Whether I talked to my Asian firms, Australian firms, U.S., Canada, [or] Europe, you hear the same thing over and over again—that they’re looking for talent,” Pancholy reiterates. “They’re all in a position of needing to add talent, and they’re struggling to find it.”

The verdict is in, and if demand for legal services continues at the current pace, law firms will keep hiring talent at an aggressive rate. But what will the future bring? To come to a reasonable conclusion, let’s consider what legal talent value in an employer—and what strategies law firms can implement to stay competitive.

What do legal talent look for in a firm? 

To understand the legal talent shortage and come out on top, firms must first understand what legal talent value. From paralegals, to corporate legal counsel, to associate lawyers, these skilled workers tend to prioritize:

Strong management

Is your firm reluctant to accommodate sick days, or hesitant to hear workers out when there’s a problem? If you believe in logging endless billable hours at the expense of your team’s quality of life, it might be time to rethink your approach. The job market is competitive, and staff won’t hesitate to look elsewhere.

Flexible work arrangements

Today workers value remote opportunities more than ever before. If you aren’t already doing so, it might be time to deliver on this front. Firms that feature flexible work arrangements as a benefit are seen as more appealing. Even legal recruiters are noticing a spike in questions about remote work opportunities.

Opportunities for future growth

Gone are the days of legal talent simply feeling lucky to have a job. Associates, paralegals, and everyone in between want to make sure they have the right job—and this means being vocal about pathways for growth, future promotions, and education and training options that offer forward mobility.

Pay and prestige

Lawyers and other legal talent have historically valued firms’ compensation and reputation. Pay and prestige are still important, but in the wake of the pandemic, worker priorities are shifting. These qualities are no longer the be-all-end-all for lawyers and paralegals, but simply one piece of the overall puzzle.

Hiring strategies for law firms in Canada

Now that we’ve outlined what legal industry staffers tend to value, we need to talk about what Canadian law firms can do to attract and retain top talent. Here are some hiring strategies to consider:

Offer a remote or hybrid model

We’ve discussed the benefits of remote (or hybrid) work arrangements. If your firm is open to it, consider letting team members work from home at least two days each week. Fully remote options, barring the occasional in-person meeting, will almost certainly make for a desirable perk as well.

Be clear about the path to partnership

In addition to being upfront about what partnership track looks like, you’ll want to be clear about any and all opportunities for growth at your firm. This means checking in with team members regularly and making sure your staff have access to mentors and advocates who can help them thrive in their career.

Provide signing bonuses and fair compensation

Did you know signing bonuses and salary bumps could help retain legal talent? As a point of reference, first-year lawyers in Canada’s four biggest cities (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary), earn between CA$92,000 and CA$106,000 per year on average. Keep these numbers in mind when hiring.

To stay competitive, firms need to recognize what legal talent are searching for in an employer. And while there’s no denying that we’re in the midst of a legal talent war, the situation is far from hopeless. Canadian law firms and corporate legal departments can fill their open positions with top-qualified paralegals, associates, and other skilled workers. And Urban Legal Recruitment is here to help.

Connect with Urban Legal Recruitment today

Is your law firm or legal department looking to overcome the talent shortage?

Based in beautiful downtown Calgary, Urban Legal Recruitment provides access to top-tier international legal talent. Our office is home to an extensive pool of candidates covering the
full range of legal expertise.

Please contact us for more information, or complete our job order submission form with a description of the position you’re hoping to fill. We look forward to hearing from you!