The legal sector is infamous for its long hours, stressed employees, and intense workloads. Did the events of 2020 change any of that? From a growing backlog of court cases to the move to remote working, Covid-19 is sure to have had a significant impact.
Using our 2020 benchmarking data, we took a look at where the sector thrived and where it fell down last year – to help guide its next steps in an ever-changing world.
89% agree or strongly agree with this statement: “My skills and talents fit well with my role and I feel able to get the job done.”
For all industries in our research, ‘role fit’ was a strength in 2020 – and legal services were no exception. For those in law itself, this may be unsurprising. Entering the profession involves significant amounts of training and highly competitive application processes – so a good ‘role fit’, in terms of having the right skills, is both inevitable and essential.
The impact of the pandemic has changed the nature of the job though – with a shift to remote working meaning the corporate camaraderie of office and entertaining-based work has gone, for now at least. Being able to apply those skills at home could be a challenge for some, so organisations would do well to ensure employees are enabled to work well remotely.
79% agree or strongly agree with this statement: “We understand all of our customers and are able to meet their different needs and expectations.”
In legal services, client satisfaction is crucial. In a report on the sector, junior lawyers listed ‘client demands and expectations’ as a main cause of the stress 93% of them experienced. It’s not surprising then, perhaps, that a top strength was their organisation’s ability to serve clients.
However, the ‘Customer’ score has soared by 16% in 2020. This is encouraging: with McKinsey recommending a focus on clients’ changing needs during this difficult time, the data shows that this is exactly what the sector has done.
76% agree or strongly agree with this statement: “When faced with a difficult situation at work, I feel trusted to exercise my judgement and make appropriate decisions”
‘Empowerment’ was another strength for the legal services – with 76% agreeing they can act with confidence, and know the limits of their role. It could be suggested that the pandemic has played a part here: a greater level of autonomy is required with remote work. It could also be that, again, the nature of the work necessitates informed decision-making in difficult situations.
What’s encouraging is what this suggests about leadership and managers in the sector – that they’re actively facilitating this empowerment. With other research finding that supportive managers and communicative leadership are key drivers of engagement, this is positive.
Only 50% agree or strongly agree with this statement: “Our organisation sets goals that are important, meaningful and help keep me motivated.”
The good news? Compared to similar research we did, the ‘purpose’ score is a considerable 21% higher than the previous year. But while that shows a move in the right direction, it’s still the biggest weakness for the sector. And that could be an issue.
For one, it’s a key driver of engagement – something our data shows, and other research supports. One survey found that top firms frequently sent communications that reinforced the company’s values – so that shared purpose matters. And in an industry with a long-standing wellbeing problem, employees need more than financial incentives to cope with the pressures that working in law presents.
Only 52% agree or strongly agree with this statement: “I get the information I need about changes in priorities and broader goals in order to do my job well.”
A new weakness for the legal service, ‘communications’ is an area that needs attention – and one closely linked to ‘purpose’. The importance of regular communication, especially from leaders, was highlighted in other research – especially concerning sharing the strategic plan.
So what’s happened here? The move to remote working has clearly presented significant challenges. But though a study saw that 42% want to continue working from home the majority of the time, and major players like Linklaters allowing remote work in the future, not all are convinced. For sensitive discussions, ‘in-person’ meetings are important – and that collaboration is important to some.
Whatever the future holds, the pandemic and the implications of Brexit mean better communication becomes even more of a priority – as the nature of business is likely to continue shifting.
Only 53% agree or strongly agree with this statement: “There are opportunities to give genuine feedback and I feel like my voice is heard.”
‘Listening’ is not a strong point of the industry. It involves employees feeling their voice is respected, listened to, and actions are taken on their concerns. And now more than ever, it is time for companies to act. In 2019, The Times identified a ‘mental health crisis’ in legal services – and data shows that wellbeing is well and truly a problem in the sector.
Some blame the notoriously long hours, others a poor work-life balance – but whatever the cause, the symptoms are severe. The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society found 90% experienced stress, with 25% saying it was severe. One way firms can address this is by truly listening to what it is that’s negatively affecting their people, and finding ways to mitigate this.
Brexit has changed the way legal services operate internationally, from travel issues to carrying out cross-border legal work. Covid-19 has held up court proceedings, raised demand in some areas and lowered it in others – not to mention left employees learning to practice remotely, away from the pressurised office environment they’re used to.
For a workforce already at risk of stress, mental health problems, and burnout, organisations need to act fast. How? They need to listen carefully to their needs. Leaders should deliver open and honest communication about company priorities. Most importantly? Organisations have to share a clear sense of purpose.
Only this will help motivate your people, and bring them together – and in a remote-working, ever-changing world, togetherness is the key to both surviving and thriving.
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