Legal professionals in 2022 have different attitudes and expectations than they had before the pandemic for deciding whether to stay in their current positions or leave. As lawyers’ work preferences shift, an intense talent war is under way in the legal industry.

A new Thomson Reuters survey, Finding purpose and having a social impact: Lawyers and tax professionals speak out, asked lawyers if their work provided them with a sense of professional purpose and made an impact on society. Legal Current explored key survey findings earlier this week, and today we look at the implications for law firm culture and strategies.

A key takeaway for law firms competing to hire and retain talent is that it’s about more than money.

The survey found that 96% of lawyers in law firms and 87% of in-house counsel feel their work makes a positive impact on their community and larger society. This echoes findings of the 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market, which concluded that the “loyalty lawyers feel to their firms and their willingness to work hard is not simply, or even primarily, driven by compensation.”

The Finding purpose and having a social impact survey responses emphasized that legal professionals are guided by principles beyond their economic self-interest; monetary compensation isn’t their only motivator to work hard. This likely helps explain the 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market finding that firms with the lowest turnover are not necessarily those with the highest compensation growth.

It’s also tied to how lawyers feel their jobs make an impact on society. The survey found 48% of lawyers in law firms said their biggest impact was “enabling a civilized and orderly society,” while 36% of in-house counsel said they make a “direct impact on society” through Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) initiatives.

This reinforces a finding from the Stellar Performance: Skills and Progressions 2021 Mid-Year Survey: 85% of respondents reported seeing their clients’ businesses increasingly focus on ESG issues. Given lawyers’ desire to work on these initiatives, the report recommended law firms “[f]oster a culture widely focused on ESG issues, with ESG champions, either formal or informal, across all practices.”

Together, these surveys underscore how much lawyers value serving the greater good through the companies and firms they represent. It’s a crucial takeaway for law firms keen on attracting and retaining talent – and for legal professionals considering whether to stay or go. Lawyers genuinely care about the social implications of their work, and they want to be part of an organization that reflects their values.

For many lawyers, the impact their work has on society is a stronger driver than monetary compensation or workload. It’s about making a difference, not making more money.

For more insights, download the full survey.

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