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Why age dictates lawyers’ firms of choice

As recently detailed by Lawyers Weekly, the firms of choice for lawyers varies depending on how old one is. So, how does age influence one’s desired employer in law?

user iconJerome Doraisamy 20 March 2023 Careers
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As part of the publication of findings from the most recent Legal Firm of Choice Survey, conducted by Lawyers Weekly and Momentum Intelligence, this masthead revealed the preferred BigLaw employers of those under 30, those aged between 30 and 39, and those aged between 40 and 49.

In recent weeks, Lawyers Weekly also published the Top 25 Attraction Firms ranking for 2022–23, detailing which firms lawyers in private practice would most like to move to. Also revealed last week were findings that one-quarter of lawyers plan to leave their current firms and will do so in the coming months, and which lawyers are most likely to leave in the near future.

Taylor Root director Brad Booth has been fortunate, he said, to have had a career in law spanning across those age brackets, and conceded that he is “not entirely sure I planned nor reflected on what I wanted out of it or in fact where I was heading”.


However, he added, one thing has always been clear to him: “as lawyers progress through their careers, their priorities and preferences shift and evolve”.

Reflecting on age differentials

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Coaching Advocates co-founder and director Lara Wentworth mused that, as lawyers move through life, one’s vocation can and does end up meaning different things at different stages.

“Our reasons for working and what we value change as we get older and enter different seasons in our lives. So, what was important to us when we started out as a new lawyer may not be as important or may even be irrelevant as we enter mid or senior levels of practice,” she explained.

“When I was a new lawyer, the most important thing for me was to gain experience and find a job where I could learn from others. Money wasn’t that important, as long as I could afford to live. I wanted to become more confident in my skills so that I could have more choices and control over my career. Those motivations changed significantly as I got older and wanted different things for my career and my family.”

When lawyers are looking for a job, Ms Wentworth continued, they think about what they need and what they value, based on their stage in life.

“What we’ve noticed is that after the COVID-19 pandemic, people are paying more attention to what matters most to them and are filtering for employers that can give them what they need,” she said.

Lawyers aged 18-29

Those getting started in their careers, Mr Booth detailed, tend to prioritise gaining experience and building skills and might be drawn to more prestigious firms to establish their reputation.

“They might also value flexibility, mentorship, work/life balance and be attracted to firms that offer a supportive culture and opportunity for growth,” he noted.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago that cleaning the floor of your supervising partner’s office or collecting their dry cleaning was considered work/life balance!”

Naiman Clarke managing director Elvira Naiman also pointed out that the views of those younger professionals will “often be coloured by how they start to view the legal market through a very idealistic lens, and will depend largely on how firms come across to them at career fairs or through conversations with family or friends in the law”.

“Big Law is very prominent at these events,” she said.

“Then, coupled with the larger graduate intake being offered by the largest five [to] six firms, it’s not surprising that this age group would list the ‘top six firms’ in their top seven.”

Lawyers aged 30-39

Once a practitioner gets into their 30s, Ms Naiman advised, several things happen.

“Lawyers consolidate their thinking about ‘international’ routes to their career combined with size of deals/complexity of work, and a proportion of females will be thinking about work/life balance issues, in line with new parental responsibilities — explaining some highly regarded mid-tiers appearing in the top eight,” she deduced.

Moreover, Mr Booth said, lawyers at this age will have gained more experience — “even if they hadn’t had time to reflect on it” — and are likely to be seeking more challenging work and specialisation.

Often, he said, they are in a position to take on greater professional responsibilities and possibly seek out leadership opportunities.

“This may also be a time when their personal life and commitments may influence their priorities in terms of salary, benefits, and the holy grail of work/life balance,” Mr Booth noted.

Lawyers aged 40-49

By the time a lawyer is in their 40s, family responsibilities come to the fore — both for men and women, Ms Naiman said.

As a result, they start to look more seriously at “alternative firms”.

“The mid-tiers really come into their own in this age group as the combination of work/life balance, flexibility, coupled with good work and good culture makes the mid-tiers on that list a standout,” she identified.

“The BigLaw firms on that list are known for their flexibility and female-friendly policies for those lawyers where ‘branding’ is still a driver.”

Mr Booth said: “Lawyers in this bracket might be looking to transition to more senior roles, alternative career paths, or desperately working out how to switch practice areas without going back to the bottom of the pile. They may also be more interested in mentoring junior staff as well contributing to social and community causes.”

Catering to employers of different generations

In response to all of this, how best can legal employers ensure they are accommodating for all shapes and sizes, and all idiosyncratic needs?

Flexibility, Ms Naiman said, appears to be the key.

“Lawyers’ lives are complex as they often try to balance family life, kids or elderly parents (or both) and/or genuine interests outside the law, and try to stay sane whilst working with complexity and intensity. Lawyers of most ages will tell us they want a ‘decent’ place to work,” she said.

“Partners who can manage their stress, partners who treat their lawyers well, are inclusive, collaborative and provide mentorship and positive reinforcement. Firms who can get that piece right will continue to attract the best and brightest across all generations.”

Being agile and ensuring diversity of offerings is also integral, Mr Booth added.

“Constantly review the metrics that determine remuneration models and look at the range of benefits that reflect the changing priorities of staff at different stages of life, such as flexible work arrangements, parental leave, wellness programs (excluding cleaning a partner’s office) and even retirement plans. Many firms talk about it and many firms will promote it, but not all will be able to implement it,” he outlined.

“Ultimately, the firms that will attract and retain the talented lawyers across all stages of life will foster a dynamic and diverse workplace culture that benefits everyone.”

And, Ms Wentworth suggested, simply paying better attention to “life seasons” and to employees’ needs and values can make a big difference.

“The importance of leadership is often understated in the legal profession with more emphasis placed on technical skills and rain making. In order for BigLaw or any law firm for that matter, to attract and retain lawyers at all stages of life, they need to invest in upskilling their leaders to equip them and allow them to engage and motivate their teams and the individuals within them at whatever life stage they may be at,” she listed.

“This takes presence, individual attention and flexibility. The cookie-cutter approach to leading people does not work when we want to engage and motivate people at different stages of their careers and life journeys.”

To read Lawyers Weekly’s full coverage of the latest Legal Firm of Choice Survey, see below:

If there are particular elements of the Legal Firm of Choice Survey, or the Top 25 Attraction Firms ranking, that you or your business would want to learn about, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..