Five facts employers should know about junior lawyers

It’s a tough time for recruiting and retaining staff in the legal sector. Sophie Gould from Flex Legal explores what the next generation of lawyers really value when job-hunting, and how your firm can attract the best talent.
Flex Legal, in association with the O-Shaped Lawyer, carried out a survey with the legal industry’s next generation of lawyers in December 2021.

They spoke with 418 individuals at the beginning of their careers across a variety of legal roles.

Below are key insights from the research, which may help you pinpoint some areas to target in your own recruitment and retention strategies

1. Job hunting starts online

Over 90% of respondents look online when searching for jobs, and 50% will use LinkedIn.

2. Flexible working: offering a balance

Juniors recognise the pros and cons of both the office and home working environments, valuing the social, collaborative, and training opportunities afforded on-site, as well as the lack of commute, the increased flexibility and better work/life balance when they’re at home.

3. Working hours: expectations vs reality

The expectation that junior lawyers work long hours is nothing new. Our data suggests that what juniors think will be expected of them with regards to hours, and what they are willing to deliver, are aligned. They appear to be going in with eyes wide open.

However, an awareness of what might be required and a willingness to do it doesn’t equate to job satisfaction – or an accurate assessment of the current realities of the role. Juniors are willing, but worried.

21% of respondents cite working hours as one of their two biggest concerns about a career in the law.

“The hours are more demanding than I expected,” said one respondent. “And there’s less supervision and support than I expected.”

One third of respondents said their biggest concern is the time it takes to qualify.

Many juniors spoke of feeling “overwhelmed”, “frustrated”, and “disillusioned” about this aspect of their career journeys.

“Becoming qualified is a long and difficult road,” said one respondent. “It’s hard, we all know this.”

This may be reflected in a sense of urgency when it comes to career progression.

4. Career development beats money

For most respondents, career development and a good work/life balance were the top factors when making career choices.

Only 17% of respondents cited money as one of the most important motivators.

But are firms so fixated on getting new staff through the door that they’re neglecting to nurture them once they’re part of the team?

“I feel as if firms don’t value their trainees,” said one respondent. “They expect us to meet unattainable targets and KPIs right now, while not taking our own personal career goals into consideration.”

Almost half of the respondents could be encouraged to stay in their roles if there was potential for career development. This is significantly higher than any other factor, including company culture and competitive salary, suggesting that this is a major need that is not being met.

“I feel let down by my employer for giving me false hope for getting progression,” said one respondent. “Even if it’s slow, some progression is better than no progression!”

5. Culture and values need to go beyond slogans

Common qualities that junior lawyers value in employers include:

  • supportive
  • approachable
  • inclusive
  • progressive
  • open
  • diverse
  • tech-literate

However, asked to comment on their personal experiences of the legal industry, several respondents highlighted that it “isn’t as diverse as it claims” and is “slow to change.”

Firms need to be genuine when promoting their company values, whether encouraging a healthy work-life balance or levelling the playing field for people from under-represented groups.

What can law firms learn?

The expectations of the next generation are surprisingly well-aligned with the reality of the legal industry we operate in, including:

  • an awareness of the working hours often required
  • an earnest understanding of their abilities and where they need to improve, and
  • an appreciation for both home and office working

However, it’s also clear that the new generation of legal professionals want more from employers. They want more guidance and support, as well as more ways to grow and develop. They want greater diversity, and more authentic action.

If firms and companies want to future-proof their talent pool, they need to look beyond talent acquisition. They need to start thinking long-term about providing an ecosystem that nurtures juniors throughout their careers, offering a clear path, and adequate support, for career development.

Find out more

For more tips on attracting the right talent in today’s competitive market, join Mary Bonsor, Flex Legal’s CEO and co-founder, at our Future of Work conference on 19 October.

Book your place

This article is based on Flex Legal's Future Lawyers report, which is running again for 2023. View the survey

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS