Great Resignation: also for Belgian legal professionals?

Grafiek Finaal
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Last year, we heard more than once that lawyers – temporarily or not - hung up their robes to go surfing or to climb the Mount Everest. Can we, as is the case in the US, also call it The Great Resignation on the Belgian job market for legal professionals?

The Great Resignation, also called the "Big Quit" or the "Great Attrition", is an economic trend in which employees voluntarily quit their jobs in large numbers. This trend is mainly affecting the United States since the beginning of 2021.

In a previous blog, we already wrote that COVID-19 has not stopped legal professionals, and especially younger legal professionals, from switching to a new employer. This is also confirmed by the latest figures we have gathered on the subject:

Grafiek Finaal

Since September 2020, we have seen an impressive increase of one quarter in job changes among legal professionals with 1 to 2 years of work experience (from 38% to 47% who changed jobs in the last 12 months). We also see an increase of one fifth in the group of legal professionals with 3 to 5 years of working experience (from 27% to 32% who changed jobs in the past 12 months). Among legal professionals with more than 5 years of work experience, no impact is seen in our sample. The ongoing pandemic has not caused them to change jobs significantly more than just before the pandemic. Therefore, there does not seem to be a general "Great Resignation" among the Belgian legal professionals, although the higher mobility of young lawyers remains a concern.

The fact that there does not seem to be a Great Resignation on the Belgian job market for legal professionals is not surprising. In the US, the Great Resignation mainly affected sectors where presence at work is required, such as restaurants, hotels and in healthcare. Moreover, Belgium in general seems to have been relatively spared from mass resignations 1. The economist Mohamed El-Erian recently stated the following in De Tijd: "There are several reasons for this, including the fact that European companies discontinued fewer people after the outbreak of the pandemic" 2.

Nevertheless, several things that characterise the Great Resignation in the US are interesting to consider. The pandemic gave many people a break and thus time for personal reflection. The realisation that there is more to life than having a job that is not fulfilling or that is difficult to combine with family was also one of the reasons that led to the mass resignation wave.

The reasons we hear from legal professionals for quitting their jobs are still diverse, ranging from the need for a new challenge, a management without a clear vision or with whom there is no connection, the ability to further develop to a better balance between work and leisure. Particularly among younger legal professionals, there is also the desire to work at a company with an inclusive culture (including the importance of feedback), where CSR is not a hollow concept, and the desire to have more impact.

While there may not be a "Great Resignation", our figures still show increasing mobility among legal professionals in Belgium. This is not surprising given the many vacancies for experienced legal profiles, both in the private practice and in other sectors. Many candidates report that they weekly receive messages regarding job offers. The career options for legal professionals today are numerous.

It goes without saying that a good retention policy that focuses on what employees find important is more crucial than ever 3. Regularly showing appreciation and recognition is key: employees want to feel like they matter 4. A McKinsey blog puts it perfectly: "To retain employees, organizations need to evolve their approach to building community, cohesion, and a sense of belonging at work" 5. In addition, the possibility to further develop oneself deserves attention in a good retention policy 6. Ensuring a healthy work-life balance and offering flexibility to this end are also more important than ever7. Especially in private practice this is a hot topic that keeps candidates awake. Many law firms offer customised programs, ranging from coaching, mental health support, yoga, fitness and healthy food at the office. They also promote flexible and remote working as well as the possibility for longer breaks, e.g. in the event of birth for both mother and father. The reality, however, is that the workload remains very high for many lawyers. The challenge of retaining and attracting talent is therefore higher than ever on the agenda of many law firms 8.

But always keep in mind that departures cannot be avoided. When they do happen, it is important to look back with gratitude on the time and achievements together 9, and not to react with bitterness or displeasure. This is also an example of good leadership. From the interviews we had with candidates, it appears that at some law firms, there is still room for improvement in this aera. Fortunately, we also know of examples where a departure takes place under the best of circumstances, sometimes even resulting in the lawyer's eventual return.

Authored by Stéphanie Verhaegen - 27 Jan 2022

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