Has The Pandemic Changed Legal Jobs Forever?

New research for ALSP Axiom has found that 48% of UK-based commercial lawyers are looking for a new job, with 72% ‘considering a flexible talent provider’. Which raises the question: has the pandemic changed legal jobs forever?

The survey of 150 lawyers, 65% at law firms and 35% inhouse, is a relatively small sample, but it echoes other surveys, for example last year Thomson Reuters data showed that ‘63% of lawyers would prefer to work hours of their choosing, while in pre-coronavirus days only 22% indicated a preference for flexibility’.

More broadly and based on general market feedback and observation, there is clearly a stronger demand now to have control over your life as a lawyer. This is of course rather tricky – as we all know – because the law firm model doesn’t naturally support the kind of self-managing and self-directing approach that goes hand-in-hand with truly flexible working.

Moreover, in some inhouse teams things are not easily made flexible for employed lawyers either. Some companies are small and so really depend on their handful of inhouse lawyers to be there for them all the time. While for large companies, senior inhouse lawyers may have to continually oversee major legal matters that are ‘life or death issues’ for the business, which are understandably more complicated to tackle with a very flexible work-life approach to staffing.

Yet, many lawyers have spent most of 2020 and 2021 – and likely still much of 2022 – working from home (WFH), whether fully or in a hybrid model. Although it’s not the case for everyone, WFH successfully tends to make you see life differently. After all, if you can handle complex matters from your sofa, not need to commute, or hang around the office until late ‘to prove you’re hard-working’…. (remember the thing about leaving your jacket on your chair to make it look you were still around and working late? Crazy, huh?)….then what else can you do to make your working life better?

And this is reflected in the data, which found that: ‘A clear majority (61%) prefer to work from home rather than returning to the office. Three quarters (75%) agree that working from home has shown them that working for a flexible provider could be a career option.’

So, it seems only natural that this latest survey is reporting that lawyers want to move to flexible models, and Axiom of course is rather happy with the results because this is exactly the model it works with. Moreover, more and more lawyers are moving into marketplaces, other on-demand groups, and exploring other methods of operating outside the rigidity of ‘traditional work’.

Responses also showed that 73% of lawyers surveyed ‘completely or strongly agree that working for a flexible talent provider would be a long-term career choice’. Also, they don’t see going flexible as a hardship, as ‘61% of respondents believe that lawyers at flexible providers are well-utilised’, and are ‘working 70-90% of available hours’.

Axiom also stressed that when it comes to its flexible talent pool ‘most work at 100% capacity, or proactively opt for fewer engagements in order to better blend their work with outside interests and pursuits’.

Daniel Hayter, Vice President and Managing Director, Europe, Axiom, commented: ‘Lawyers are looking for a new life in the law. Our survey uncovered a host of changes in attitudes and aspirations about traditional career paths. While some of the shifts have been exacerbated by the pandemic, the overall trend is consistent with what we’ve witnessed in the legal services marketplace for a long time: a growing desire among legal professionals to gain more control and autonomy over their careers and build personalised paths that align to their interests and individual aspirations.’

Sara Morgan, Senior Vice President, Legal Talent, Axiom, concluded: ‘Everyone knows that the legal profession is changing by embracing digital transformation and adopting techniques from other sectors such as agile working. It’s happening as part of a wider effort to align with changing client-side demand for increased focus, flexibility, responsiveness and proof that legal services deliver quantifiable value. Flexible talent providers are at the intersection of critical these shifts in how lawyers want to work and how clients want to procure legal services.’

Of course, we need to put things in perspective. Although a lot of lawyers want to go totally flexible it doesn’t mean that the majority will. Law firms and full-time roles inhouse will remain the majority’s path for some time yet. But, the data does show that the legal world has more options and that lawyers are embracing them like never before.