Legal Career

5 ways to attract legal staff who stick

Australia’s top legal professionals are smart, driven and hungry for work. The cream of the crop set their sights on the biggest, most prestigious law firms. So how do smaller – and in particular, more specialised – firms compete?


It starts with your employer brand.

We spoke to two College alumni, Pippa Colman (Pippa Colman & Associates) and Bryan Mitchell (Mitchells Solicitors) to learn how they’ve created thriving workplaces where lawyers want to work – and stick around.


1. FOSTERING HAPPINESS: Run a workplace, not a factory

As far as attracting talent goes, it’s important that your workplace is… well, attractive.

To establish your firm as an attractive prospect for legal professionals, begin by making it an attractive prospect for your existing staff.

They are, after all, your best brand ambassadors.

One way of doing this is to authentically encourage and endorse work–life balance.

“We encourage everyone to enjoy life,” says Pippa. “We’re not a firm that works around the clock. We really are sincere in our wish for our staff to have a life outside the office.”

This means recognising that, often, life takes precedence.

“One of my young lawyers said to me that it’s comforting to know she can take her dog to the vet and call up and say she’ll be late.”

In Pippa’s firm, “If someone needs time off, they can have it. They don’t need to ask months in advance.”

You can also follow in Pippa’s footsteps and ask your staff, directly, whether they’re happy at work. If you ask casually, and don’t pry, they’ll usually tell you. And maybe tell you why.

“Perhaps they have too much work; maybe they’re having a fight with their partner at home. If it’s something we can help with, we will.

“But you won’t know unless you ask them.”

2. STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE: Create ties with universities

Want to attract the brightest minds from the next generation of legal professionals? Make your brand visible on campus.

But this isn’t just about marketing. You need to put in a little work to extend a helping hand to up-and-coming talent – ideally before they’ve even graduated.

“Go straight to the source,” says Pippa. “Contact universities or The College of Law and tell them what you’re looking for. Ask them to refer candidates and interview them to determine whether they’re a good fit.”

Pippa even offers graduates trial interviews and feedback on their resumes to prepare them for the workforce – even if she never hires them.

It’s a triple whammy. She gets to meet and nurture new talent, form relationships, and strengthen her firm’s stellar reputation.

3. MENTORSHIP AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Help your lawyers achieve mastery

Feeling proficient at work is key to job satisfaction. And you can help your people master their roles by setting them up to do so.

This requires a two-pronged approach: offering mentorship and encouraging professional development. And the former is vital to support new lawyers as they navigate their first years of practice.

“Bringing young lawyers in means we mentor them – we don’t just cut them loose,” says Bryan. “They’ll see clients with us; they’ll see how problem-solving takes place.”

Bryan also strongly encourages external professional development.

In fact, many of his new lawyers study The College of Law’s Wills and Estates program – an arrangement that’s fruitful for both his new recruits and his firm, which specialises in this area.

In her firm, Pippa provides her team with weekly internal professional development.

“Every week, we have an hour in the boardroom where we livestream a seminar – or watch a pre-recorded one.”

But she doesn’t stop there: “Our local law association puts on 10 professional development events a year. They have some really high-level speakers, like judges and QCs.

“We go to every single one.”

And Pippa goes the extra mile to ensure her staff know they’re also supported moment-to-moment.

“In our office, we help each other,” she says. “If one of my team has an urgent problem, I drop what I’m doing and help them on the spot – or a find another lawyer who can help.”

Ongoing support, mentorship and professional development are essential to creating an environment your staff feel confident in.

As Bryan says, “There’s a lot of satisfaction in knowing what you’re doing – when the thought of coming to work doesn’t give you anxiety.”

4. A CULTURAL FIT: Recruit the right talent

While smart and dedicated talent is highly sought after, not every applicant will be right for you on those merits alone.

Bryan is determined to hire new lawyers who are in it for the right reasons. Not just, for instance, the dollars.

“I avoid recruiting people whose driving factor is remuneration,” Bryan says. “If they’re moving jobs and it’s just because they want to make more money, I probably won’t hire them.

“I aim to recruit people who are driven by technical excellence, as they’re more likely to stay with us. That’s because we provide development opportunities that will help them become better lawyers in the long term.”

And besides, if they’re not a cultural fit, they’ll know it. And they simply won’t perform to the best of their abilities.

“It would be awful for someone to come into an environment where they don’t mesh with others,” says Pippa. “It’s wise to hire the person who’s going to fit in.”


5. THAT WARM, FUZZY FEELING: Empower your people to give back

Many lawyers get into the practice of law because they want to do some good in the world. But the feeling of satisfaction that comes from making a difference isn’t necessarily abundant.

“Working in law is still a privileged position in our society,” says Pippa. “There is a big gap between legal services and those who can afford them.”

Pippa’s firm offers legal aid to those who need it most in the form of unbundled legal services. That means, instead of offering a full service, she and her staff will coach them through legal processes. They’ll give them a letter, suggest a strategy, prepare them to appear before a judge, and more.

For clients who are struggling financially, have an intellectual disability, or are otherwise unable to help themselves, unbundled legal services are a great opportunity – and not only for clients.

They also present an opportunity for her team to do some genuine good.

Furthermore, Pippa encourages every one of her eleven lawyers to carry a pro-bono file at all times.

“If one of our lawyers comes across a deserving case, they will email us and ask if they can take it on. So far, we’ve always said yes.

“If we can help our lawyers help others, it gives them a warm fuzzy feeling,” says Pippa. “But it also gives them the chance to do what they got into law to do: make a difference.”