How to recruit, retain and incentivise your legal staff in the “new normal”

Written by: Chadwick Nott
Published on: 29 Oct 2021


Recruitment market

There have been seismic changes in the legal landscape as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many changes are positive, and, for key decision-makers, it is worth recognising and reacting to these developments, particularly where firms are busy but finding it difficult to recruit into business-critical areas.


1) Hybrid working 

One positive of the pandemic has been to demonstrate, whatever a firm’s size, that remote working and flexibility can bring obvious benefits to staff, with little impact to the bottom line. We have seen many businesses post impressive results in a year when the economy shrank by 10%. 

There is much talk of the “the new normal” being at least a hybrid of office and home working, so arguably lawyers can earn City salaries but easily live many miles away. In addition, fee-sharing law firms now rival the long-established LLP model and professional support, knowledge management and contract vacancies have increased steadily since the second half of 2020, offering alternatives to those fed up with the traditional billing/hourly target, private practice model.

This time last year 90% of our candidates in the South East, if offered a position, only had one offer to consider. At the same time this year, 75% of our candidates now have multiple offers. Therefore, with more choice and a smaller pool of candidates, the key must be to ensure that you do everything you can to retain the good staff you do have and to offer yourself as an attractive alternative to your competitors. 

2) Market reputation

In 2020 many firms did implement cost-saving measures. However, most firms tried to hold on to as much of their legal fee-earning talent as possible and many have been quick to pay back salaries and any furlough funding received, given how profitable they ultimately were. 

Candidates want to know how a firm treated their staff during the pandemic and there are certainly some very good examples of firms who really stepped up to the mark during these unprecedented times and continue to do so. Those with “good news” stories to tell will certainly benefit in terms of staff retention and attraction.

3) Wellbeing

Examples of wellbeing initiatives include:

- The appointment of a specific Health & Wellbeing Representative – a fully trained individual with 100% focus on this role, disseminating regular health and wellbeing, advice to all staff. 

- Staff trained as Mental Health First Aiders and confidential counselling services made available 

- Regular firm-wide updates from the partners/managers to ensure homeworkers feel included and well-informed, combined with regular internal video catch-up meetings 

- Promotions and salary reviews

- Bonus payments, specifically for spending on improving home working environments. Covid bonus payments to thank the staff for their hard work in difficult times

- Regular online exercise or yoga classes 

- Photo collages or regular profile-raising of team members (bearing in mind new starters will not know or meet anyone very often)

- Sending staff “thoughtful” gifts – hampers, a hot water bottle in November, mugs, tea/coffee and biscuits for online team coffee breaks, showing appreciation through ongoing tough times

- Employee ownership models are on the rise. Holding a stake in the place you work can change the mindset among staff creating a common purpose

4) Speed is key 

If looking to recruit, go early and move quickly. In 2019 the average time it took from sending a CV to a firm, going through the interview process, offer and acceptance was 2.5 months. Aided by online interviewing this is currently 4 weeks, often less.

5) Be open about your policies

Particularly those around flexible working, paternity/maternity leave and pay, diversity and inclusion. These are now the forefront of many of our candidates’ minds. 

6) Be as flexible as possible for the right candidates 

If you have bought into the idea of working from home, then look at offering what the candidate wants rather than sticking rigidly to your firm’s WFH policy. If you can’t move on salary, consider a signing on/moving bonus. 

7) Be creative in your benefits

Comprehensive sick and holiday benefits are very important as well as benefits that increase employee engagement. Ask your employees what they want and, where possible, personalise offerings. 

8)Consider your Corporate Social Responsibility offering

Despite the individual separation and isolation we have experienced, communities appear to have grown more tight-knit and there is a renewed willingness to help others less fortunate. Many lawyers are attracted to the profession by altruistic motives and CSR can enhance job satisfaction, in addition to strengthening relationships with clients and supporting recruitment and retention. 

9) Finally, consider your traditional working practices and demands

It is all very well talking about wellbeing but if you are still expecting your staff to embrace an increasing chargeable hour target, is that realistic? 


In this rapidly changing legal landscape, the most effective responses have come from those who have adapted quickly and creatively. It is hoped that arising from this terrible period there may at least be some long-term beneficial changes for our profession.


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