Not only is the Australian unemployment rate near record lows, but the latest job mobility figures (the proportion of the workforce changing jobs) are the highest in a decade.1

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that of all occupations, professional workers are the most likely to change jobs. For firms in sectors like legal services and accounting, this is keeping strategies to find and keep top talent firmly on the agenda.

Principal in the corporate and commercial advisory team at mid-tier law firm McInnes Wilson Lawyers (MWL), Chris Davis, says one noticeable change is a movement of lawyers to in-house roles. Davis explains that higher salaries can be a driver alongside alleviating heightened workload demands.

Melanie Costi, Partner at Bellco Law, a boutique property and commercial law practice with offices in Townsville and Brisbane, says finding experienced people remains a top challenge. Costi says people can be drawn away from regional centres by higher paying jobs and the chance to work on unique matters. 

Both Costi and Davis acknowledge remuneration is essential but remains only part of the picture when attracting and retaining talent. Providing flexibility, personalised development plans and strong leadership are equally, if not more, vital.

Catering to unique needs

For Costi, one of the top priorities is advancing a culture that supports quality work and provides the flexibility people need. That has meant a sharper focus on offering lifestyle benefits at Bellco Law, rather than trying to compete with large firms on salaries or assignments to high-profile matters.

Costi says that Bellco Law’s practice areas were even chosen as they are “more social areas of the law and don’t require people to work long hours, which is better for mental health”.

“We don't believe in rigid KPIs or strict performance metrics,” Costi says. “Instead, we encourage our team members to focus on producing high-quality work while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This approach has helped us appeal to people seeking a more fulfilling work environment.”

Davis believes the need for flexibility can manifest in different ways across the team, saying his firm is conscious of “accommodating people’s varied commitments, circumstances and ambitions”.

“Some may be happy to work longer hours and obsess over budget targets,” Davis says. “Others may have unique goals and deliver value that can’t be quantified in traditional ways, like business development or pro bono work.”

Ensuring support is personal

According to Davis, staff also want a sense of purpose, opportunities for growth and development, and an inclusive culture. He adds that everyone’s goals are different, and it’s a leadership imperative to focus on helping each on an individual level.

“In addition to offering common programs to build management skills and providing promotion pathways, we invest in each lawyer with their own customised plan. Focusing on their education pursuits, business development, technical growth, and areas of special interest lets them know we’re investing in them.”

“We're focused on what truly makes our people tick. We take the time to understand each employee’s passions and give them ownership and responsibility in that area,” Davis says. “Holding them accountable and encouraging their discretionary effort can foster a sense of pride in their work.”

Costi agrees, saying that “everyone has a different personality and way of doing things, and we aim to empower that rather than micromanage their delivery. As a first-time founder, this has been a learning curve, but it builds trust and respect that helps underpin motivation when workloads increase.”

Broader cultural aspects matter

While a firm's profile and reputation are important to candidates in the earliest stages of considering a position, Davis and Costi point out a range of other considerations as they move into the team.    

For Costi, rewarding staff with social events and an opportunity to de-stress is important for wellbeing and team cohesion. She says some months of the year are very busy and staff events and activities provide a way of thanking people for their hard work while creating an opportunity to engage and ensure they aren’t struggling.

According to Costi and Davis, building technology capabilities is important to both firms and teams as people increasingly look at a firm’s digital innovation culture as a marker for adaptability.

“The speed at which technology is moving is amazing, and people need to be more agile and IT curious,” Davis says. “We’re using tools across the practice to help with project delivery, document storage and automation, among others, and people are always looking at the next development.”

Costi agrees, saying, “The software we use is coming along in leaps and bounds, and everyone wants to do more with these tools. Whether it’s technology integrations or AI-driven programs we’re trialling, we can see that our team is embracing it. Our responsibility is then to ensure we’re using it safely and securely.”

The importance of keeping up-to-date with technological advances is something that CommBank’s Head of Professional Services, Daniela Pasini, strongly agrees with. She says that, across the board, existing and potential employees are increasingly evaluating firms’ technology and innovation credentials.

“Offering the tools and skills that can help professionals keep up with the pace of digital change is now more important for both new candidates and existing teams,” Pasini says. “A key part of adoption of emerging digital tools is ensuring it’s accompanied by cybersecurity training, which is something that employers and employees alike can benefit from.”

In summary, firms can consider the following as they develop their talent strategies:

  • Flexibility is foundational – alongside a culture that promotes work-life balance, accommodating different needs, circumstances and ambitions can appeal to growing and diverse teams.
  • Everyone is different – understanding peoples’ passions and customising their professional and personal development can drive motivation and engagement.
  • Culture isn’t one-dimensional – from the social side of working through to innovation culture, providing the right settings can encourage openness, curiosity, and creativity.

Access insights and resources to help protect your firm and teams against cyber security threats, scams and fraud, here.