You don’t need to be a high-street name to attract the best millennial talent

The Legal Week Intelligence Best Employers Report was recently released and it contained pretty much all the names you would expect to be in there – Burges Salmon, Ashfords and Trowers & Hamlins among others.

But aside from being a ‘name’, what do these so-called top employers do to attract younger candidates and what changes have we seen take place over the last 12 months in the way in which law firms not only attract but also retain the young talent they need to grow their businesses?

According to the report, 94% of respondents stated that being made to feel valued by their employer was the most important consideration for them, followed by opportunities for career development (92%), quality of work undertaken (92%) and salary – also at 92%.

Of course that is not to suggest that the 94% who said being valued was of high importance do actually feel valued. Indeed, the survey found that even though the majority of respondents stated they feel ‘satisfied’ (76%) with their employers, a dissatisfied minority argued for “less spin, more honesty” and wanting “to be treated more like a valued member of staff rather than a small cog in a law machine”.

The survey also found a widening earnings gap between the larger law firms with an international presence and the rest, resulting in many mid-sized firms struggling to compete when it comes to the salaries they can offer to attract young talent. But just how important is the matter of remuneration?

A recent report by PwC found that millennials (workers born between 1980 and 2000) valued company culture and workplace behaviour (28%) over progression (21%) and collaborating on key projects (18%). Similarly, a report from Forbes noted that millennials specify ‘work-life integration’ (88%) as a main drive when considering where to work.

Only last month, the results of a survey by Universum were released that millennials are seeking ‘purpose’ and ‘innovation’ in a future employer over and above anything else. It found that young professionals want “to work for companies whose stories they can tell, whose values they can espouse and whose businesses they can learn.”

Responding to the Legal Week report, Paul Robinson, head of HR at Trowers & Hamlins, said: “The market has moved. “We can’t compete with the salary levels of the magic circle and we’re not trying to, but we still have healthy salary levels. The nature of the work that we do and the work/life balance that people get are important factors too.”

This was echoed by Simon Luckett, global HR director at Withers. He said: “Feeling valued often has very little to do with money. You’ve got to make sure you are financially competitive but the way you feel valued is the interaction you get from the work that you do, both from the partners you work for, but also the clients that you are interacting with.”

In fact, it is this increased level of client engagement and future career prospects that has seen the greatest upward shift over the last 12 months:

 

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Flexible working and achieving a healthier work/life balance have also seen a marked change since the last report was compiled. It found that the disparity between how important having a good work/life balance is to an individual (90%) and their current levels of satisfaction (74%) has been slashed by half from a 30% gap last year to 16%.

 

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On flexible working, the report found a general consensus that law firms are increasingly recognising the importance (and business benefits) of flexible working, but it is also recognised that this is something that needs to be an option that is available to all employees and not determined on an individual basis.

As Louise Hadland, HR director at Shoosmiths told Legal Week: “You can’t blow hot and cold with people; you have to be consistent in your treatment of them. You have to be joined up, so that one person, in one team, in one office, sees and feels the same treatment as somebody in another, which is pretty hard to do, but we work very hard at it.”

Irrespective of how large or small your law firm is, there is always something that you can do to make yourself an employer of choice for the next generation of legal talent.

When you think about it, what really matters is not whether you feature in the top lists we see so often, rather the most important goal is to become a great place to work where your existing employees can make a real difference for themselves, the firm and your clients.

In doing so, they become your brand ambassadors. This, by default, will enable you to attract the best talent, quality clients and boost your reputation as a prestigious law firm that is more than capable of competing with the big boys on a level playing field.