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In-house work grows stale

In-house work grows stale

The GFC may have sparked off a culture of boredom in legal departments with lawyer retention fast emerging as a major challenge for organisations. Speaking at a Naiman Clarke seminar on Tuesday…

The GFC may have sparked off a culture of boredom in legal departments with lawyer retention fast emerging as a major challenge for organisations.

Speaking at a Naiman Clarke seminar on Tuesday (27 July), in-house team leaders from Telstra and Deloitte expressed their staff recruitment and retention concerns in a post-GFC market.

Also on the panel, founder of Marque Lawyers Michael Bradley noted that he has witnessed challenges surrounding the retention of in-house lawyers from the private practice side of the legal market. "My inbox is full with in-house lawyers applying for jobs with us," he said.

"The primary reasons [for the lawyers wanting to move] are boredom, a lack of career options and progression and a lack of training ... That's where private practice represents an attractive proposition."

Leslie Moore, general counsel at Deloitte, said she is particularly concerned about staff retention given the level of specific skills she believes in-house lawyers need in order to be successful in their roles.

Moore identified that many in-house retention issues come down to a lack of perceived career progression options, the inability of in-house employees to offer the same level of training as private practice and general frustration at dealing with a single client.

"During the GFC, people cut back on interesting projects, work can get stale," said Moore. Then there is the problem of working for one client: "You can't get rid of them," she said.

But Moore is hitting back. Deloitte has implemented significant training and mentoring schemes, as well as extensive career path discussions, for in-house lawyers in a bid to counteract retention problems.

Simon Brookes, deputy group general counsel at Telstra, said he is promoting retention in his workplace by moving to ensure lawyers sit with their business units in an open plan environment and that they also have the opportunity to get out into the field.

Brookes added that he has come to accept that young lawyers will not always make the long-term employment commitments to the organisation that he would like and that "not everyone can be general counsel".

"So let's be honest and more mature about career plans," he said. Telstra also has a scholarship opportunity for lawyers judged by general counsel Will Irving and Gilbert + Tobin managing partner Danny Gilbert.

Bradley suggested that to counter retention problems in legal departments, in-house lawyers should raise the option of "reverse secondments" with their law firms. "You have these law firms that want to add value, it's one thing you could take to them," he said.

Angela Priestley

Read more from Naiman Clarke's In-house seminar in next week's edition of Lawyers Weekly.

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