Yesterday, I tuned into an ILTA webinar titled Retaining Legal Tech Talent. The speakers included a legal tech recruiter, Jared Coseglia, and two Litigation Support/Litigation Technology leaders working inside of firms, James Bekier of Baker Hostetler and James Bandes of Quinn Emanuel.
Early on in the webinar, all 3 talked about a success story they had in regards to retaining a top level performer, and what it took to keep those folks around. I was struck by how much the focus of the two James was on growing their person in regards to increasing their knowledge and responsibilities, and with Jared it was also on vertical promotions. I was so struck by this that I took to Twitter to ask around:
Tuned into @ILTANet webinar on retaining tech talent, both case studies mention growth/increased challenges/responsibilities as part of the retention strategy. Mid and small law firms, can you even offer that? How?
— Mike McBride (@mikemac29) December 13, 2018
Now, the reason this came to mind was two-fold. One, in smaller and mid-sized firms, you aren’t likely to bring in a ton of new technology on a regular basis, nor are you likely to have a need to turn your technology staff into managers. You just aren’t moving that fast, if at all. Some of the new technology that your team members might want to learn may not make much sense for your environment, so you can’t offer that kind of growth and training. In fact, even at a larger place like the ones the speakers represent, one of them doesn’t use Relativity in house, so when team members want to further their career prospects by learning it, or getting an RCA certification, the firm isn’t much help to them. Again, that happens everywhere, but is especially common in smaller firms, where there may not really be much need for more advanced tools, like Nuix for example, or trying to bring in technology like CAL, TAR, or AI in-house. You’re not going to get a lot of hands-on time to learn those tools in a smaller firm.
That manager issue brings us to the question of career paths. What does the typical career path look like for legal tech talent in smaller firms? It looks a lot like “sit here and keep doing this job, waiting for someone to leave or retire, maybe.” That’s not really a career path, is it?
So, if those are two big issues in regards to retaining talent, small firms are going to have to get creative in order to make up for the fact that these things probably don’t exist.
What else is important in terms of retention?
Money? OK firms can probably offer pretty good salaries. They aren’t terribly hampered in that regard, but it is always tied to how profitable the firm is overall.
On the other hand, how many firms are out there handing out generous raises and bonuses to their technology or eDiscovery teams?
Flexibility? Again, among small to mid-sized firms, how many offer remote work, flexible scheduling, or even a relaxed work from home policy? As Jared stated, it’s not at all uncommon to see vendors and other legal tech companies poaching talent away from law firms for this very reason. They can work from wherever.
Can your technology team negotiate for more time off? Again, it may happen, but it’s not exactly widespread around the law firm world.
How much money is set aside in the budget for training and helping your tech staff with certifications? How tied to the firm do I need to be both before and after that is provided? (Perhaps a topic for another post, but I’m not a fan of the “We’ll train you if you sign this contract to stay for two years” move.)
Consider, if you will, the typical recent college graduate with strong tech skills. What do we know about these millennial and younger generations?
They value growth, flexibility, work-life balance, meaningful work, etc.
Now think about small to mid-sized law firms?
Do you see a match there? I don’t. I don’t see the law firm world getting creative here in terms of attracting and retaining talent. In fact, I would challenge you to think of the typical mid-sized firm, and ask yourself, how much of the technology staff is under 30? 40?
Where is the new blood coming from? And if you have some younger talent, how are you going to keep them around long term?
They’re going to go somewhere that can offer them the things that are important, not just money and overtime pay. (Not to mention that those other places may even offer more of that too!)
I’m in agreement with Jared here. The vast number of legal tech startups, eDiscovery vendors, and even Big Four accounting firms are already siphoning off talent from firms. That is only going to get worse. Outside of only the largest firms, the current law firm culture can’t compete, and isn’t currently moving fast enough to pivot to something more competitive.
Good luck with that.
How do you think firms are going to attract tech talent going forward? Do you think they’ll adapt?