Disruption brought by global uncertainty has pervaded the dynamics of the legal workforce, with lawyers across Asia rethinking their careers. Freny Patel explores the reasons behind this trend
In his alarmist “great resignation” speech in early 2022, Singapore Law Society president Adrian Tan lamented high attrition in the Lion City’s legal fraternity, alerting warning signals to the rest of Asia to rectify high attrition or face an exodus of talent.
Surprisingly, the pandemic was not to blame. Rather, the biggest challenge he saw was burnout, over which lawyers had been complaining way before 2020.
“Email and instant messaging mean that young lawyers operate at a far more intense pace, compared to previous generations,” he warned, highlighting mental well-being as a serious cause for concern.
His apprehension was subsequently, more recently, shared by India’s Chief Justice, Dhananjaya Yashwant Chandrachud, who equated junior lawyers to slave workers. At a Bar Council of India gathering, he said junior lawyers were overworked and underpaid, urging senior members of the bar to pay them decent salaries.
Although not sparking this trend becoming known as the “great resignation”, the pandemic surely added fuel to the fire, pushing many lawyers to adjust their working routines, roles, practice areas or even entire careers.
In tandem with these developments, say experts, is an urgent need for the region’s law firms to increase pay and improve working conditions if they wish to retain talent. As one lawyer who recently left private practice put it, there is a direct correlation between attrition rates and the empathy of leaders in how they treat their teams.
Many lawyers and legal recruitment agencies Asia Business Law Journal interviewed agree. There are various reasons for people movement in the legal fraternity. Hitting the glass ceiling, wanting a better work-life balance, lack of confidence in meeting billing targets, and wanting a more meaningful role in the corporate world are just some of the reasons why a new generation of lawyers are not necessarily at one firm for the long haul.
Han Ri Bong, a Seoul-based partner at Bae Kim & Lee, says the younger generation of lawyers has a different perspective from the older one, where staying at the one firm for decades until becoming partners was the norm.
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