Can legal tech prevent lawyer burnout and improve talent retention?
Talent retention and lawyers’ burnout go hand in hand, with the latter influencing the former. Lawyers experiencing burnout are far more likely to leave a firm. With 52% of workers across the workforce viewing health and well-being as main priorities, firms that prize employee productivity at the expense of mental health will find themselves quickly losing talent to their competitors.
This is especially relevant in light of the “Great Resignation”, with Mckinsey & Company reporting that 40% of workers worldwide are thinking about leaving their roles. It would appear that until now, law firms have been essentially throwing money at the problem, however, higher pay no longer offers the same competitive advantage as it once did.
Indeed, many firms offer similar starting salaries for junior lawyers and there is nothing competitive about simply matching one another. For law firms, this drives a need for innovative ways of retaining talent.
Legal tech offers a solution to this challenge. It can be used to automate low-value tasks, allows for greater flexibility with remote working, and can increase the efficiency of research and document drafting through AI-assisted tools. Each of these works to improve job satisfaction by removing the need for lawyers to focus much of their day solely on routine and repetitive tasks.
By improving job satisfaction and creating a better work/life balance, firms show top lawyers that they are valued and their mental health is respected. Legal tech helps lift the burden and allows lawyers to spend more time on work that is both fulfilling and billable.
Law firm leaders must recognise this technology’s value and the benefits it brings. Skilled lawyers are in no short supply, but to remain competitive law firms need to change how they incentivise talent to join them. Therefore, new ways of attracting and retaining talent are required.
Legal tech offers an excellent opportunity to do this. Below, we examine why law firms are facing challenges with talent retention and how new legal technology can help them remain competitive in their hiring practices and retain talent over the long term.
Why the legal industry is struggling with talent retention
The workforce is still reeling from the fallout of COVID-19. A study by LawCare, in which 1,700 legal professionals participated, found that during the pandemic “participants averaged a score of 42.2 on the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory”, corresponding to a “high risk of burnout.” These levels were mostly related to exhaustion. In addition, 69% of participants said they had experienced issues with their mental health during the 12 months before the completion of the survey.
Another study found that lawyers who were only valued by their employers for productivity tended to have worse physical and mental health compared to those who felt they were valued for their “talent, skill, and humanity”. This is important to note because millennials, as a whole, appear to care more about work-life balance than they do about job progression and wages.
Law firms need to shift focus from short-term fixes, such as salary increases, and apply long-term thinking. They need to understand that employee stress and dissatisfaction aren’t conducive to talent retention.
Retention can only happen if there are still lawyers who want to continue working for their firm. If they find their health and well-being are disregarded, they may choose to leave and join a rival firm more aligned with their way of thinking, or even leave the industry as a whole.
The Work Trend Index Annual Report found that 53% of employees are more likely to prioritise their health and well-being over work. These professionals view this balance as a measure of success and due to increasing job market pressures, see the advances in remote working technology as a means to achieve this balance.
While any advances in legal tech adoption are welcome, law firms must understand that they’re on borrowed time. According to a survey by Information Age, between early 2020 and late 2020, the height of the pandemic, the number of UK workers leaving jobs “due to outdated technology” rose from 21% to 32%. Then, 49% of workers said they were more likely to leave a job if they became “frustrated with their work technology”.
However, the pandemic did have one silver lining - it greatly increased the legal technology adoption rate. Gartner predicts that law firms will acknowledge this trend and by 2025 will have increased their legal technology budgets by 200%. This benefits both lawyers and law firms alike as there is a clear correlation between better technology and higher retention rates.
A legal tech boom is fast approaching. Firms that get ahead of the curve may find themselves in a much better position than their competition. Lawyers looking to join a new firm will see early adopters in a far better light than firms that cling to outdated ways. If your firm acts fast, it will be that much easier to attract top talent. By 2025, almost every firm will be at this stage.
There is a strong case for the idea that legal tech can be used to improve talent retention. It is perfectly positioned to tackle lawyer burnout, which is one of the leading causes of dissatisfaction in the industry. The question is: how best to leverage it?
We examine the answer to this question below along with a few different legal technologies that can help with talent retention. We also discuss how they can be used as potential lawyer stress solutions.
How to leverage legal tech to improve talent retention
It's clear lawyer burnout is a major issue the industry needs to overcome and a lack of legal technology plays a significant part in causing it. Thankfully, there has been an acceleration in the adoption rate of new legal technologies.
Lawyers’ mental health and job satisfaction improve when they spend less time on autonomous repetitive tasks. This means legal tech is ideally positioned to help retain talent and prevent lawyer and attorney burnout. According to data by Statista, 84% of practitioners from over 400 law firms agreed that legal tech had increased their organisation’s efficiency.
However, legal tech shouldn’t be considered a magic fix. The extra time gained from efficiency should not be used to put lawyers under the same levels of stress as before. The application of tech is only one factor in improving a lawyer's mental health. Crucially, law firms must also change their attitudes and behaviours toward their employees’ well-being.
This will benefit firms by improving experienced talent retention. In addition, a progressive stance on mental health will attract fresh new thinkers. It is only one part of the solution, but it is a vital one.
There are several ways legal tech can help to improve lawyers’ well-being and create an attractive work culture.
Remote working has been one of the largest changes to the working world in recent years, both in the form of working solely from home and in hybrid working models. However remote working is structured, there are many different technologies at play that must work together in unison.
Legal practice management software is one such example of tech that can be used to improve workplace flexibility. It enables senior firm members to better manage their junior lawyers and practice as a whole. One of its main benefits is the ability to remotely track time spent working for clients.
Not only does this software negate the need for administrative staff to log hours manually at the end of the month, but it also means a supervisor can see exactly how well a project is progressing without having to go into the office.
Thomson Reuters reported that 65% of UK lawyers from their sample believed remote working had a positive impact on their well-being - another finding that suggests legal tech’s adoption is imperative for lawyers’ mental health.
As we’ve already seen, reducing the amount of time spent on low-value, labour-intensive tasks can boost employee morale. Using technology that allows for automation is in a law firm's best interest.
Take the proofreading of contracts. Ensuring that contracts are error-free is paramount because even the smallest mistake can have catastrophic consequences for your client and your firm’s reputation. Proofreading your legal documents is important but it’s also monotonous and prone to error - plus, it’s a step that 33% of fee earners admit to skipping.
AI can remove the risk of costly errors. AI-powered proofreading solutions like Definely Proof afford lawyers a one-click tool for proofreading, allowing them to automate hundreds of proofreading checks with the click of a button, from inconsistent capitalisation issues and missing citation hyperlinks to undefined terms, and more.
It also offers the ability to filter and categorise issues to negate time spent endlessly scrolling through documents manually. Powered by AI, this tech can flag and delete drafting notes like empty parentheses or highlighted text. By automating these more mundane tasks, tech can help prevent burnout by freeing up more time for lawyers.
Document drafting has always taken a substantial amount of time out of the day. Many lawyers consider it to be one of their most time-consuming tasks. Thomson Reuters suggests that lawyers could save up to 82% of their time by automating these kinds of repetitive activities.
One of the main issues of traditional drafting is that it requires lawyers to work across multiple documents, some of which may be physical or digital. A lot of time is lost from context switching between these documents. It also presents a cumbersome onboarding process for new lawyers, who have to learn how to draft manually and become masters of Ctrl + F to hunt down and change words manually.
All of this is avoidable with automation software. But, with that increase in efficiency, some express concerns about the document quality. There is also the fear that new software is difficult to integrate with firms’ existing systems. Thankfully, legal tech, such as Definely Draft, offers both excellent quality and seamless integration.
Definely Draft accelerates the research and drafting process. This technology plugs directly into Microsoft Word, enabling lawyers to search for definitions and references while tracking changes across multiple documents, without the need for multiple screens.
The benefit of using a single screen is that there is much more flexibility in where document drafting can be done. A single laptop is now the only piece of equipment needed, which is incredibly useful for lawyers working remotely.
Improvements to talent retention begin with the firm
Allen & Overy is frequently seen as an innovator when it comes to its use and endorsement of legal tech. In 2022, it saw a retention rate of over 80% for its final seat trainees - 36 out of 44 decided to remain.
It’s evident legal tech can improve talent retention, but note that it provides only part of the solution. Your firm needs to show it values its lawyers’ mental health and well-being above all - that is the true missing piece of the puzzle.
Law firms that put the onus solely on their employees to improve their own mental health will see their top talent quickly move on to greener pastures. Embracing this technology today means firms will stay a step ahead of their competition.
See how Definely’s contract lifecycle automation solutions can combat burnout by cutting down the hours your lawyers spend on low-value, stress-inducing tasks. Book a free demo today.