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‘Quiet hiring’ sparks fears of burnout among lawyers

Here, a director from a legal recruitment firm discusses the phenomenon of “quiet hiring” and the problems that may emerge if it proliferates in the legal profession. 

user iconJess Feyder 18 January 2023 Big Law
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“Quiet hiring” is a phenomenon that sees employers moving employees into different jobs and different departments instead of hiring new staff. It is about cost saving — moving people around within the organisation to save money, said Jesse Shah, director at nrol.

Budgets are low at the moment due to talk of a recession, meaning there is increased risk that quiet hiring will enter into the legal industry, noted Mr Shah.

Firms look at it as a problem-solving situation, transferring talent across to other areas for different cases and projects, he continued.


The phenomenon of quiet hiring is currently happening with legal support staff, Mr Shah noted, and in this area, it’s not new. 

Quiet hiring is not common for lawyers, as mostly, their skills are less transferrable across departments as they are more specialised in their training and focus areas; he noted it is very new for lawyers to be expected to take on different areas of law that they’re not specialised in. 

“I’m seeing some evidence of it, especially within the insurance space,” Mr Shah said. 

“I haven’t seen too much in the litigation or commercial side yet, but who’s to say it’s not going to happen.”

“We’re waiting to see if it actually comes into the legal profession.

“I’ve seen it in boutiques so far, not really in middle or larger firms,” noted Mr Shah.

“It’s not being managed well in firms,” he noted, “they’re giving lawyers an additional workload and not really taking into consideration their current workload.”

It’s frustrating for employees because they have a certain skill and want to pursue that area of law; transitioning into other areas is not what they signed up for. Often, with the new workload doesn’t come greater pay, Mr Shah illuminated. 

“The biggest fear for candidates is the fear of burnout,” he said.

If firms are stretched in different areas because of the cost of hiring, or due to shortages, they may expect lawyers to do work in a whole new area as well as their current caseload, he continued. 

“It’s true some find it exciting and challenging,” he said, but “the majority I’ve spoken to have a negative stance”.

“It’s cost-effective, but it might not be long-term effective in terms of employee retention,” he continued. “While you might save money by not hiring someone new, long term, that employee won’t stick around when they’re overwhelmed by work or doing projects they’re not passionate about.”

“Because of that, they’ll look at venturing to another firm where they can go back to their area of passion,” Mr Shah warned. “Instead of creating a positive cost-effective solution, you’re going to actually create a longer-term headache for yourself.”

“The people I have spoken to are now looking to leave firms,” he said. “We’re hoping that it doesn’t happen.”

Advice for partners and employers

My first advice to any firm is before you look to hire, look to retain,” Mr Shah advised. 

“You want to ensure that your retention rates are strong.

“There’s no point hiring to keep on filling up people leaving,” he said, “yet, a lot of firms don’t put a lot of effort into retention.

“Understand and look after your current employees and have internal processes in place to manage their workloads.

“Manage the process of quiet hiring in the correct way; if you give someone additional workload or move them to a new department, first understand if they’re happy with that.

“If they’re not passionate in their new role, like they were previously, eventually they will leave because the market is such that there is enough opportunity out there for people to move and move fast.”

Advice to employees

“If you’re not happy with something that’s happening, have the conversation with your partners or leaders to find a solution rather than putting yourself under pressure, which eventually will make you leave anyway,” he advised. 

“I’ve had candidates talk to me about the pressure they’re under, whilst never having had that conversation with their manager, which might have meant they avoided the departure.

“From a candidate’s perspective, I hope quiet hiring doesn’t pick up; you’ve got to think of people’s wellbeing, welfare and passion of why they’re in their job.”