News Item

June 2016

Research reveals changes are needed to retain young lawyers in the profession

A ground-breaking report on the experiences of new New Zealand lawyers has today been released highlighting the need for the profession to consider making changes to improve work satisfaction and hopefully the retention of graduates in the workplace. The report, funded by the Law Foundation, says that the way in which junior practitioners are managed and mentored has a significant bearing on their experience and development during this time. These early years in practice have the potential to “make or break” careers in the law. It summarises research carried out by law graduate Josh Pemberton which included 40 hour-long interviews and a survey of over 800 junior lawyers.

The research was initiated after concerns were expressed that talented graduates are leaving the legal profession early-on in their careers, and focussed on finding out from law graduates about their experiences and the factors that influence their decisions on whether to remain in practice or not. Director of the Law Foundation, Lynda Hagen, says, “It was important to fund this study to provide a baseline of solid information rather than anecdotes. Using this research, the profession can consider ways to better prepare and retain the best young talent entering the profession.” The project also received support from the New Zealand Law Society and Otago University Law Faculty.

Key areas covered in the report are work satisfaction, work-life balance, remuneration, retention, the effectiveness of legal education, and the experience of junior women lawyers. While the majority of respondents considered it more likely they would continue in practice, it was anticipated this would diminish over time. Interestingly, 61% anticipated working overseas within the next 5 years.

Most were satisfied with working life. Those who weren’t, were unhappy about aspects such as work-life balance, flexible working arrangements, remuneration and mentoring some of the same reasons given by those who had already left the profession. These concerns were more prevalent in those working for large private law firms.

Law Society President Kathryn Beck says, “Our legal profession has the chance to consider ways in which new lawyers can be better prepared for their work and how they can receive better support and assistance in developing their careers. The profession needs to think hard about some of the findings. Seven out of 10 of the new lawyers surveyed found being a lawyer was highly or moderately stressful. The balance between work and life, along with remuneration has to be considered. And two-thirds of junior women lawyers felt their gender had a negative impact on their prospects.”

Ms Beck says the people who participated in the research are within their first five years as lawyers. “They are the future of our profession. It is essential that we listen to their views and experiences and look at how we can change to give them a better pathway on their journey to becoming the profession’s leaders.”

The report: First Steps – the experiences and retention of New Zealand’s junior lawyers

The Law Foundation provided $24,313 funding for this research project