When COVID-19 hit law firms, they raced into protective mode as with other businesses and professional services organisations. Many cut staff, slashed pay and bonuses and made economies including reducing office space. Deloitte, notably, shut down for a week in April shortly after the pandemic hit, requiring all partners and staff to take a week of leave covered by their annual holiday balance or as unpaid leave. Around the same time, Norton Rose asked a tranche of their higher-paid staff to move to a four-day working week, with an accompanying 20 per cent reduction in their take-home pay[1].

A year later, the picture looks somewhat different. In a year torn apart by the pandemic, law firm fees have largely grown rather than shrunk[2], especially for those who focus on complex transactions, leading to a ‘billable bonanza’ according to American Lawyer.   The result is an escalating war for talent that is challenging traditional loyalties and which is starting to spill over into foreign shores. American firms are looking to Australia and Canada for lawyers who have deal-making experience to slot into their workforce.

What does this say to Australian law firm leaders who might have smart people on their books who could be the target of overseas, or indeed local, recruitment? Somebody will always pay more, offer more appealing add-ons and fancier offices, so how can you work to enhance staff retention? It’s where Peter Drucker’s adage that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ comes in[3]. Culture drives innovation, execution and, in the process, has a direct impact on retention.

How can you check in on your culture in a structured way? The first step is to take a step back and gather data on your culture to understand how your staff are experiencing working in your firm versus the organisation’s espoused values. This can be done by undertaking a cultural audit, which will highlight how the life of your firm maps onto your desired culture. From this, you can develop meaningful leadership and team development activities that will target the real issues you need to address to improve the odds of people choosing to stay with you.

Andrea Foot

Executive Coach, Leaf Logic Pty ltd

[email protected]

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/63974573-d401-44d0-a188-8dd9ed6e8396

[2] https://www.economist.com/business/2021/07/15/americas-elite-law-firms-are-booming

[3] https://hbr.org/2011/03/culture-trumps-strategy-every