Smokeball Communications Manager Dana Moran and Legal Technology Advisor Jordan Turk shared the findings of our spring data study, “The Great Resignation: What’s Next for America’s Law Firms?” in a free legal webinar. While Dana conducted and analyzed data to build the exclusive Smokeball survey, Jordan offered her perspective as a practicing attorney.
Every legal professional experienced their fair share of turbulence and change in the past two years. In 2020, COVID-19 threw firms for a loop, requiring them to adopt new technologies overnight and cope with suddenly remote operations. Then, in 2021, the face of the legal profession changed again thanks to the shakeup known as The Great Resignation.
On the heels of these changes, Smokeball wanted to know: How has technology helped firms with one to 30 members navigate hiring, remote work and the day-to-day cultural struggle of the past two years?
Who’s hiring — and who’s applying?
While most firms told Smokeball they only have one or two open roles, those vacancies make a big difference at offices with 30 or fewer employees. Nearly two-thirds of firms also struggled at least somewhat in 2020/21 due to resignations or an inability to hire, and applicant rates were low.
Those who do apply are looking for benefits beyond better pay — though that’s the No. 1 reason candidates sought a new job. While firms we surveyed didn’t overwhelmingly change their hiring of candidates from large firms, those who did benefit from those candidates’ experience in high-pressure, high-volume workplaces. Jordan adds that large-firm candidates are billing machines — if someone is used to billing 2,300 a year and your firm only asks for 1,700, they’ll willingly give their best while lowering their own stress.
What’s changed since 2020?
As firms struggled with staffing, caseloads skyrocketed. Nearly one-third (31%) of firms turned down work in 2020/21 due to increased demand, and 25% turned down work due to decreased capacity/staffing.
Naturally, the majority of firms reported that COVID-19 had a negative effect on their culture. And 68% of firm leaders say they’ve personally experienced burnout since the pandemic began. However, 66% of firm leaders say less than 25% of their teammates have reported burnout since March 2020. We suspect that’s because teams don’t feel safe being vulnerable about their mental health — a long-term problem that firm leaders must address.
Jordan shared examples from fellow lawyers at larger law firms who reported both mental and physical symptoms of burnout — to little sympathy from their bosses. Those firms can’t expect long-term loyalty from their valuable, struggling attorneys.
Technology + the future of law firms
Smokeball’s survey found nearly 90% of firms added at least one new piece of technology in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, 49% took on more clients, 31% increased their billable hours and 22% decreased their overall hours worked.
More than half of firm leaders also told Smokeball they know of someone who opened a firm in the past two years. This didn’t surprise Jordan, who said the pandemic helped attorneys realize they can be nimble, branch out and hang their own single or add a new practice area. None of this would be possible without the support of legal technology handling the administrative lift.