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Law Firms Undergoing Greatest Cultural Change Seen In Decades

The days of burnout, stress and gruelling workloads that characterised New Zealand law firms are ending as the legal industry's workplace culture finds itself on the cusp of the most radical transformation it has seen in decades.

Louise Hall-Strutt, the founder of Auckland-based legal recruitment company Altitude, said today that New Zealand law firms need to make radical cultural changes to retain quality talent and attract rising stars.

"The junior and intermediate lawyers we work with now desire a more collaborative and values-driven work environment.

"We see a significant uptick in young lawyers primarily looking for firms that offer a better work/life balance and that focus on positive social values.

Hall-Strutt said that for junior lawyers, the legal world has traditionally been a tough graft and long hours. But people don't want that anymore. They want a job that aligns with their lifestyle in a place where they can be their authentic selves, and which gives them a voice. They want to work in a collaborative culture.

"So, we are seeing a lot of lawyers looking for firms that offer these dynamics," Hall-Strutt said.

Many legal firms have begun adapting to these changing aspirations, but she said no single firm has yet found the right balance.

"Over the last ten years, legal firms have put in a lot of work to build communities, get the rainbow tick, improve diversity and even include health and wellness initiatives.

"It wasn't the changing labour laws that compelled firms to upgrade, although that did help. Instead, the firms realised they had to listen to their employees or risk falling behind," Hall-Strutt said.

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For many firms, the lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic jolted them to speed up or fast-track these essential cultural and operational changes simply because working from home made the legal hustle and bustle of the legal world much harder.

"During Covid-19, burnout became a significant issue because the pandemic increased the workload. That meant people were working crazy hours and the lines between home and office became blurred.

"I know people felt unsupported, and as a result, many decided to move around as they voted against these working conditions with their feet. That was a surprise to some firms."

Now that the worst of the pandemic is hopefully over, firms are gently encouraging – and sometimes demanding – employees to return to the office. While younger lawyers who missed out on mentorship opportunities during the pandemic will appreciate this reversion to normality, others aren't so keen.

"At the minimum, the most common demand we are seeing from candidates is for flexible working policies.

"Many firms are now entering an experimental phase regarding the new work culture, and nobody knows yet what works and what doesn't. It's a bit of hurry up and wait," Hall-Strutt said.

Hall-Strutt offers some tips for firms developing their work culture and policies.

1. Open communication

One mistake some firms make when dealing with evolving staff preferences is to assume the answer will come from consultations, whiteboard sessions and long meetings between the partners. But it is critical to engage with employees directly, Hall-Strutt said.

"Allow people to have a voice, rather than telling them how it will be. Create a collaborative and inclusive environment where everybody can have a say. After all, that's precisely what employees say they want," Hall-Strutt said.

2. Be flexible.

Returning to the office will significantly benefit junior lawyers who may have missed out on the training, development and mentoring they needed during the lockdowns.

But these same junior lawyers also want a job that offers them the flexibility to go to the gym, arrive at work later, and finish later, among other reasonable opportunities.

"Be open to flexibility. Workplace policies are no longer one-size-fits-all since people have different needs. Ask them what they consider important and collaborate to find a way to make it work," Hall-Strutt said.

3. Focus on values

People will never forget how you make them feel, Hall-Strutt said. From the first minute of the first meeting with a candidate, there is an opportunity to showcase the firm's values and goals.

"Intermediate and senior lawyers often value their families and involve them in decisions. A firm structure, for example, that puts family values first will stand out to these talented people as a great choice. People want to work with firms that align with their values," Hall-Strutt said.

For more information: https://www.altituderecruitment.co.nz/?source=google.com

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