April 26, 2021

New ABA survey outlines employers’ best practices for post-pandemic legal profession

CHICAGO, April 26, 2021 — The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on virtually all segments of the legal profession, prompting a unique opportunity for firms and organizations to reimagine the practice of law, according to a new survey released today by the American Bar Association.

Findings from the national survey, “Practicing Law in the Pandemic and Moving Forward,” covers how the pandemic has affected lawyers and the future plans for law practice as the worldwide health crisis winds down.

“The Coordinating Group on Practice Forward commissioned this survey to learn what lawyers need moving ahead and to understand the expectations for law practice as the pandemic dissipates,” said ABA President Patricia Lee Refo. “Periods of major disruption can offer tremendous opportunities for leaders to rethink paradigms and improve processes. This report sets out a range of practices for legal employers to consider the best path forward.”

The survey of more than 4,200 ABA members, one of the largest ever by the association, was conducted in fall 2020. It reveals the current and future expectations of practicing lawyers as well as their concerns, needs and goals moving forward.

Among the findings:

·         Lawyers feel overwhelmed by the pressures of their work — especially women with children and lawyers of color — with many considering leaving the legal profession.

·         More than a third of respondents (35%) are thinking significantly more often about working part time. Women with children age 5 or younger (53%) and women with children age 6-13 (41%), were even more likely to be thinking about part-time work.

·         Lawyers are stressed about workplace resources, recognition and job security. At the top of the list were worries about a salary reduction (55%), getting furloughed or laid off (40%) and advancement (28%).

·         Clear pathways to advancement are viewed as important throughout the profession, and especially valued by lawyers of color (57%) and women (58%).

·         Lawyers want their employers to provide programs and policies around wellness, better resources for working parents and comprehensive plans for family leave and sick leave. 

·         Lawyers are seeking a culture where leaders are engaged, empathic and show that they value the effort and contributions made throughout the organization.

Study authors Roberta Liebenberg and Stephanie Scharf, principals with The Red Bee Group LLC, said leaders in the profession have a tremendous opportunity to rethink the way they do business and set long-term goals and strategies for their organizations. “The report calls out for new approaches to challenges that have been heightened by the pandemic, which have disproportionately affected women lawyers and lawyers of color, and which will impact how well corporations and law firms move forward.  Some of the core challenges are the extent to which a workplace has a culture of inclusion, transparency and support for individuals, teams and emerging leaders to thrive and be successful. Our data-based best practices provide the framework needed to ensure the success of all lawyers and the future of the profession.”

Recommended best practices for employers moving forward include:

·         Insist on leadership that is engaged, transparent and accountable, and fosters a culture of inclusion and success.

·         Take the long view about retaining lawyers through part-time and flex-time policies.

·         Use metrics to measure the success of policies, practices and efforts to implement change

in the workplace.

·         Reassess compensation systems.

·         Provide greater parental resources and support.

·         Strengthen wellness and mental health programs.

William Bay and Laura Farber, co-chairs of the Coordinating Group on Practice Forward, said the survey “has provided crucial data to support initiatives, policies, best practices and resources to assist our members by promoting well-being for lawyers, law students and judges; supporting child care and family care funding by Congress along with best practices and resources for lawyers; focusing on re-entry to the practice of law post-pandemic; and addressing the impact of the pandemic on diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal profession. We are looking forward to the implementation of additional future recommendations to assist our members as they navigate these interesting and challenging times.” 

The full report can be found here.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at www.americanbar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews.