An Insider look at The Great Resignation and New Legal Business Models
Caroline Hill, Editor-in-Chief for Legal IT Insider speaks with four leaders of legal tech and Alternative Legal Services providers about the “Great Resignation.” They share insights on what’s really happening in the legal talent market, and how their companies are influencing, and being influenced by, the new legal labor market dynamics. Read transcript
Editor-in-Chief Legal IT Insider
Caroline Hill is a former lawyer in the city. She has been a senior reporter at Legal Week, news editor at Legal Business, and took over as editor of the Orange Rag in 2014/5.
CEO and co-founder of Priori Legal
Senior Manager of Product Parnterships and Alliances at Factor
CEO at BlackBoiler
Senior Director of AI Success at Agiloft
Welcome to Legal Tech Matters, a Litera podcast dedicated to creating conversations about trends, technology and innovation for modern law firms and companies big and small.
Hi everyone, welcome to LegalTech Matters. Thank you so much for joining us. I have a stellar panel lined up here today to talk about the great resignation and its impact on the legal industry. Joining me today are having some sort of alphabetical order, are Basha Rubin, who is CEO and co-founder of legal marketplace Priori Legal. Bashir went to Yale Law School and almost immediately saw the light and founded Priori Legal, where she’s helping to democratize the way the in-house teams find, hire and manage outside counsel Hi Basha, thank you for joining me.
Hey, thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for joining us. Then next in alphabeitcal order, by first name, Chris Bell, who’s senior manager for product partnerships at leading alternative legal services provider Factor. Chris has always been in legal software development, starting out Juralio in 2013. He then worked in Tungsten Network and then as a product manager at Axiom. Hi, Chris.
Hi, great to be here. Thank you.
Daniel Broaddrick, CEO and co-founder of AI contract review company BlackBoiler, before founding BlackBoiler in 2017 was an associate at Kirkpatrick Townsend and Stockton, and immediately before that, an associate at Thompson Hine to name the last two roles before he became a tech founder. Hi Dan
Hi, thanks for having me, Caroline.
Last but not least, Anne Nulty, Senior Director for AI Success at leading contract lifecycle management provider Agiloft, and previously senior director for Customer Value care at Kira Systems, and before that, an associate at Brazeau Seller Law and also an associate at Goodmans.
Thank you so much for having me.
Sorry for taking you last.
Not offended. All good. Thank you. And so we had to talk about the great resignation. So when 40% of workers around the world say they’re considering quitting their job or changing their profession, according to research conducted by Microsoft among many.
One legal recruitment company recently reported they are increasingly hearing from their lawyer candidates that they’ve reassessed their priorities and come to the conclusion that there’s more to life than work. They’re looking for change, and in many cases, employees going to be spending some at home and some time at work. What they want a better work-life balance. They’re looking for better clarity around the hours that they work, whereas we hear that employers are in many cases don’t want to pay more on technology or training.
Before we dive into the weeds of what what law firms or corporates need to do and if technology is the answer. s this something that and feel free to jump in and I can pick on you, but let us know to is this something you’ve experienced firsthand? It’s a great resignation. I’ve read lots of conflicting and really interesting articles. Is it do you have firsthand experience, maybe Chris, to start with?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s something that we’re that we’re seeing at some of our clients. Of course, there’s a there’s a little bit of that aspect of some of the preventative measures of thinking about and people are just feeling, you know, overloaded. The pandemic’s brought. obviously, the stresses that being in that environment has but then also and you know, the additional stresses of work and picking up where any of their teammates have left.
So we kind of have that preventative side that we’ve seen. But then we also have the a little bit the, you know, the treatment side that we’ve seen. And there are, you know, there is a sense that you do get this sort of contagion effects that and when one person leaves other people start to, you know, the work can fall on and the people that are left and other people start to think about that and start to think about what they’re working on as well. And so we’re seeing a little bit of it. But it’s also, you know, I guess, is that thought of what you’re seeing and what people are thinking and that’s what’s been really revealing from these, you know, these studies from Microsoft, it’s not just a question of the people that we see leaving now. It’s also a question of you know what people are thinking about doing in the next year or further down the line as well.
Yeah. Does anyone else want to jump in
As you say, this is I mean, this is basically what we do at Priori and is a trend that we have a front row front row seat for, which is that we enable lawyers to practice much more flexibly.
And that was something that, I mean, was certainly a mounting desire pre-pandemic, but there was always the skepticism. And I’ll tie this back from some of our in-house clients about who these lawyers really were. There were, you know, who is the lawyer. You say they’re just as good as an attorney who comes from a big law firm. But why would they then choose to practice a platform like yours? And you know, you say they’re really rational reasons. Of course, you can live anywhere you want; you can have a more flexible schedule; you don’t, you know, you get to go to your kid’s soccer game or pursue whatever hobby you have a lawyer, you know, lawyer who’s saying, you know, surfing six hours a day and all of that.
And it never resonated. You know, it was always a real sense of skepticism that the best lawyers would be at the big firms and that there was something wrong with, you know, they couldn’t cut it, they couldn’t hack it.
And then all of a sudden, it was really in the first three months of the pandemic, the conversation shifted and everyone started saying to me, How can I do that? This is exactly what we’ve gotten a little bit of a taste for. All of a sudden you realize you don’t need to be sitting right next door to somebody in order to be able to work with them effectively. You can be at your, you know, you can live in the beach house and have a different kind of life.
And all of a sudden the money that you’re making goes a lot further than it does, particularly in New York or San Francisco or London. And I think that there was there was it really felt like a like a revelatory moment in the market generally where the conversation shifted from skepticism to like, how do I make that happen?
And that’s tracked in terms of what we’re seeing, you know, empirically too, more lawyers applying to participate in the market place than ever before and more demand for these kinds of attorneys than ever before, and a real comfort that is going to be an ongoing part of the business model of of in-house teams because it also enables in-house teams to be able to accomplish their goals better, too.
Interesting. Who was about to jump in.
I was just going to say that I have been thinking about the great resignation in the context of my own move from big law to legal tech and reflecting on how when I first joined the legal tech company, I was out for five years. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, but it was more than working from home and it was more than that, and I wasn’t totally sure why there were no more Sunday Blues. I didn’t work less – importantly – but I loved it, and I controlled when it was so
so that I still put that in the autonomy category. But my boss at the time gave me the Daniel Pink book, Drive, and it it. I felt like it was written about me, and it kind of gave me the language with which to explain why I love my job so much because I had way more meaning, honestly.
I could see how my work was impacting the business. I could connect it to the client in a way that it’s really hard to do when you’re a junior lawyer. If you work for a great partner who explains all that to you and brings you into the why of what you’re doing, that’s awesome.
And I certainly worked for some partners like that. But I think it’s the meaning piece that you get in like some of the newer legal tech jobs you get to accelerate your connection to that, and seeing the impact of your work.
And for me, that’s a big deal. Like no amount of compensation would ever make up for me, not having autonomy and not having meaning in my work and not being able to get better all the time and doing hard things that I did at the law firm. Lots of doing hard things, but I had that plus all this other stuff in legal tech and I get the desire to go after those kinds of jobs.
Having been at Norton Rose, no offense to Norton Rose, and then left to become a journalist, I recognize that feeling.
Dan, did you have more? I must move on to talk about sort of the walk firms should be doing, although perhaps that’s not really the case that we should get down to. Dan Do you have any additional thoughts?
Yeah. Like Anne I was an early adopter of the great resignation, so it’s it’s good . In 2017 I left a big law full time and I had a similar experience with being more purpose-driven in what I was doing and feeling like, you know, really engaged in my work.
I work way more than I did as an associate at big law, actually, particularly those first several years, it was it was a lot of work. So I think it’s just if you’re engaged, if you like the people you’re working with and you like what you’re working on, you’re always going to enjoy your work more. That’s what I enjoy doing now. You know how we engage at BlackBoiler. We talk to lots of people. Blackboiler is software that automates high volume contract review and editing. We do it by learning from what our clients do.
So we talk to a lot of companies that are struggling to hire as they grow number one because there there is a very real fight for talent right now in the marketplace, and they’re worried about losing people. So, you know, one of the things that we always tell people is we can help take all of that work that your people have done in negotiating contracts and turning it into an asset. So it doesn’t it doesn’t walk out the door. When they walk out the door, you can keep it, you can retain it.
And I want to come to ask you specifically about that, actually. But before we sort of dive into that, so I mean, I was going to ask you what firms are doing and what they should be doing or or Basha from your perspective, perhaps, which this is not the right argument at all. Like perhaps this is really the way that things should go, but I’m quite interested in this. You know, the law firm war for talent, right? And specifically whether they should be better using technology in order to retain people to take away some of the grunt work to whether technology can help improve their quality of life. So what do you think? I mean, what are firms doing? Are they doing enough to retain talent, do you think? And that could be for anybody? Maybe so let’s go and let’s go with the same order, let’s go, Chris. It was probably reverse. Let’s go Dan.
Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it’s been a little while since I’ve been in big law, right? So it’s 2017. So I don’t know if I’m really qualified to talk about what it’s like right now there and what they should be doing.
I mean, I read the headlines like everyone else. It sounds like the strategy is, let’s throw a bunch of money at them. So you know. To be honest, that’s going to keep people for a limited amount of time. That’s they’re going to move on. But that’s the whole law firm model anyways. So, you know, they’re probably doing what they should be a big law, you know? I don’t feel qualified to really speak on it.
I think it varies dramatically.
I think there are some firms and in some ways geographically that still want people in the office to stick with their old business model. I think in other cases, they’re being a little bit more creative about how they can provide more autonomy because of course, there’s different kinds of autonomy. Going demands are client demands can’t control that. So that’s always going to be a constraint around how free you are. But you know, it’s not just about what you’re working on, but also where you’re working from is like an opportunity to me. For me, that’s an easy give actually from a law firm really – let people work where they want to work, you know, give them as much as you can around freedom to work, how and when they want to work. But then also to me, the mentoring thing is everything and the firms that are good at that I think will do better. And I certainly feel like I benefited tremendously. I mean, it wasn’t enough to keep me in big law. So full disclosure, like, I still wanted legal tech. But but I have a lot of fond feelings for my time in private practice.
Yeah. Similar to Dan, I’m not sure that I am the most qualified to speak on this. But you know what I will say from our vantage point is that, you know, you teed up the question as firms and the diversity of firms that exist and the different kinds of strategies is just so, so broad and I
think getting broader. One of the things that we have seen at Priori is an increase in firms that are almost like alternative service providers in some way. They don’t have a they don’t have the pyramidic partnership structure, and it is more like a virtual firm model.
I don’t know what the right terminology is, and I’m sure I just offended everybody. But where you know you, where their individual attorneys who plug in to a firm infrastructure but are still able to operate flexibly. And I think that that kind of model, is gaining more and more traction because it offers some of the security of being at a larger firm without the typical structure. And so we see those firms not only retaining but gaining a significant amount of market share that was happening before the pandemic, but only accelerated over the last 18 months. But in terms of big law, I don’t have any special insight beyond the news.
But Chris, but Chris, they’re partly talking about you. Right? ALSPs, including Factor, are offering a different model. I mean, I think maybe from your original answer, I’m not quite clear, but you would you say you’re benefiting in terms of the sort of slightly more tech oriented way of working or perhaps more flexible way of working?
Yeah. Well, I think I think, you know, to similar to Daniel and Bashe, I can’t really speak a lot to what the big law firms are doing, but I can certainly speak to what we’re doing. And you know, I think we we’d like to think that we’ve been doing pretty well at this over the last year. We’ve seen them, you know, we’ve been very fortunate to grow our headcount by about 20%.
So we’ve welcomed, you know, a great deal of new joiners to the company. And for us, it’s really been on two fronts since part of its culture and it’s been about partnership. And so on the culture side, I think I recognize a lot of what’s been said.
It has been, you know, some of that is day to day. It’s just making sure people are supported as they’ve been going through a, you know, perhaps the craziest time and most of our living memories, you know, making sure they are supported the day to day, making sure that we are taking time to celebrate, celebrate successes as a company and and as individuals. And then also the other aspect is developmental, and that’s something we focused down on a lot as well. And that sort of all wraps up into us trying to focus on being, you know, we set ourselves this goal that we will create the best culture in legal.
And we think that’s what’s really going to, you know, make people want to want to come to Factor and stay at Factor. And this is where I guess, you know, thinking about what people could be doing is that a lot of that’s very individual. And you know, the things that are going to retain one person are not the same as will retain another person. And so from our side, and I think for other companies, that ends up being a lot more conversational about what people need.
And then the other side is partnership. And that’s where tech comes in for us. so, you know, BlackBoiler, Priori, Agiloft all have a lot of partners, and we see technology as being something that it’s going to provide, as you say, take out some of the aspects of work that people didn’t necessarily go through law school and become lawyers to focus on, and also provides a development opportunity that the people in the in the company are really, really looking for at the minute. So that’s how we’re approaching it as in terms of how it all fits together.
Yeah, I think that’s a really good point, Chris. Like there’s always going to be a place for big law, right? It’s not going away, giving those attorneys who have decided that they maybe want to explore something else an easier off ramp to an an alternative practice I think is going to be so key, because there’s so many people who want that alternative off ramp who will say I’ll take less money with for more flexibility and to be able to live someplace else.
There are so many areas out there who will take that.
It’s I think the thing that we have to get past a little is, you know, it’s only it’s on it’s technology. But but technology matters, right? And it’s this is the wrong terminology like I’m using it on all fronts. An alternative, of course, because you know, there is something a little bit about when we say all this hype is being something that’s strange. But, you know, Factor has been around for decades, and we just see this as really blending the best of both worlds.
So, you know, we do have a lot of that sort of expertise and knowledge from old law. And you know, that’s where a lot of our a lot of our teams come from and they come from that sort of traditional Law firm world and then also with our great partners, of course, such as such as BlackBoiler bringing in those those new law aspects of the technology and the processes that are going to make their job just just that so much easier and different to how it has been.
So it’s like a little family here. Anne and Basha, we’ve talked we’re focusing on Law Firms and you obviously work quite heavily with the corporate sector. Do you see a big difference there in terms of what’s happening?
What I am seeing in my work with customers a lot around use of AI and CLM generally is this new contract ops professional role that’s emerging and they’re at a premium and hard to find. But individuals who have a traditional legal background but also are aware of contracting process and CLM, I think are extremely valuable. I think that is a really interesting, meaty job that will be attractive to a lot of people. And the other thing that’s happening at the same time is that CLM has gone from being this more of a just for a pocket of the enterprise to being the system of record where all the commercial workflows go through. And so that makes that job even meatier, because now you’re not just building a tool for a legal team, but it’s a tool for the whole enterprise.
And then so in terms of departures, though, and like the great resignation? Do you think that it’s happening to the same extent from the from corporate legal teams pressure or either of it?
Yeah. So and that’s a good question. I mean, so I’m in Canada. I don’t think it’s happening to the Canadian law firms are really having a hard time retaining talent right now. So I think that is a more significant problem.
I think from what we’ve seen, it’s really both. And, you know, I we and I see that in part because the demand for outsourced talent to fill gaps is huge. I could not tell you whether that is because people have resigned or whether there is new open headcount that they’re not able to fill. But some combination of those things is empirically is empirically what we are seeing. And I, you know, and I think that one thing that I’ve been thinking is we’ve been having this conversation, which is not sort of a legal mindset, but is these firms and in-house teams, I think, are the ones that are successful in this moment are ones that are able to clearly, as Chris was doing, articulate their value proposition and their raison d’etre.
Whether it is as as Dan said, big law firms are always going to exist and there’s a role for them and they should exist. And you know, there are people who are always going to want to work at the top law firms and get a certain kind of training and make a certain kind of money and be
involved in a certain prestige of deals or cases or whatever it is like, that’s awesome. They should exist. And then I think there are really there are companies and other firms throughout the AM Law 200 and and beyond, there are in-house teams that have a very clear brand value proposition of why you work here because you get to accomplish X or because you get this kind of flexibility or we value this culture or you get this kind of exposure. And I think that in this moment of the great resignation, having that animating “why” regardless across the legal sector, whether you’re a legal tech company trying to recruit, I don’t know whether Big law firm or a house legal team that’s trying to grow their ops function. That it is, it is no longer the case. You can be like, Yeah, we’re we’re a good job. It’s it has to be a little bit deeper than that.
But how important is it to allow people to do the work that they are qualified to do, right? Like so you’re trying to stay CLM you’re trying to save people time, you know, within the in-house world in terms of making it more efficient? And in that way, you know, you’re trying to take the pressure off the in-house secret team. Dan, obviously you’re AI contract reviews and you’re taking out a lot of the kind of grunt work and the laborious stuff that you know, I used to be a lawyer. I didn’t want to do that either. Like how much? I mean, I understand it’s really interesting. Press your point about culture, but I think you can’t create good culture with technology. I think that that I think that’s obviously a massive mistake.
But how much can we can that technology can help using better technology can help to you to make people’s lives better so that they can actually do what they qualified to do?
Yeah, I mean, I think for us, it’s, you know, we’ve sort of always been the premice that humans want to spend time with humans. I mean, I mean, I’m sure, you know, some moments of us being trapped in our houses over the last year has been very different. And so the technology isn’t and technology doesn’t create culture, but technology and this is culture stuff incentive to get people away from, you know, being in in certain things that take them away from working with humans, right?
I was just going to agree with Chris, but also say that, you know, one of the most compelling things that I heard early in my startup founder days is that it was important to tell your employees that the way they, at a tech company and particularly a tech company that’s looking for that startup hockey stick, that the way to advance themselves is to automate themselves, which is complete, which is different than the mindset that we’ve been trained to have as lawyers.
It’s different than the mindset that most people in big corporations have, right? You don’t want to automate yourself because then you’re out of a job, obsolete. But by explicitly telling people that if they do that, they will be rewarded within the company. I think is a really important way to build a culture of innovation and of cohesion,
Dan, you start to talk about or be interested in your observations and then we’ll see you started to talk about tech, preventing talent, walking out the door. I’m just close to the time, actually, so I I’d love to revisit that point. So. So what are your thoughts?
Well, I think it’s inevitable that at some point talent is going to walk out the door. They’re going to, they’re going to move on to other things. I mean, I think, you know, the average time span somebody spends at a company is decreased, I think, pretty dramatically over the last 20 to 30 years. And so what we hear a lot from our clients is, you know, we’re going to have to hire somebody and get them up to speed on number one and how we do things right. And so like, how can we get them up to speed faster? And so we play a role on that. We can help get people up to speed faster because we’re gonna give them the first cut of how the contracts can be reviewed or edited or whatever the case, you know, is here.
So we play a role there. But then also, since we’re a machine learning technology and we’re capturing what happens, we’re actually retaining that training that goes into those people. We’re retaining all that work that they do so that they can become an asset of the company so that the next people who come in are doing less of that repetitive work that nobody enjoys. Nobody, you know, likes to an exact or some people do. But most people, most attorneys don’t like doing the exact same thing over and over again.
So what we want to do is be a tool that works with the attorney, the attorneys is in control of it, and it helps them get their job done faster and more efficiently. And then it also allows the company to scale their services without necessarily having to scale their headcount at the same rate, which is obviously an important thing when you’re trying to grow a company because, you know, hiring, hiring really qualified people, as Anne was talking about, we’ve seen the exact same thing with the contracting position. I mean, it is so sought after right now. It’s kind of kind of crazy, you know, like like we had a person we interviewed on a Friday and we waited until Monday to get an offer and she was out the door was gone. It’s like, it’s crazy how fast they go.
It’s amazing how fast these really talented contracts folks go right now.
And we’ve got literally about three minutes. And did you want to add I’ve got I’ve really wanted to ask you whether you think one of my questions, I think in the next loop, this is a big question.
The last two minutes, has it gone too far the other way? This isn’t a tech question, but you know what, when in back in the day, you know we would be back in the day, we would, you know, it would be very much about, you know, pleasing your employer. And, you know, now it seems it’s all about the employee, right? It seems to have this shift gone too far. We were literally as a big question over the last couple of minutes. What do you think the shift is going too far?
That is a really interesting question. This is a total oversimplification. But as a manager, I’m kind of of the view that if you hire amazing people like it all sorts itself out that if you get like, I would always pay more for someone who is going to be exceptional and have fewer people and give them tons of freedom. And so I don’t worry too much about like the supervisory issues or any of that. I think if you get the hiring right, like the rest of it is you’re in good shape.
I think there are some macros here that I do think. I mean, we have seen a bump in the Priori primary marketplace and in Priori hiring, in the salaries that people are asking for, and I think that reflects these overall macros. And but I don’t know that those trends are going to continue.
I don’t really have a view one way, one way or the other. I think there’s a strong chance that it does, and there’s strong chance it doesn’t. But I personally, I think it’s about having a if you want top performers, you need to have a culture and you need to have processes and resources that enable them to do their jobs.
I think that’s always been the case. I just think that the startup and tech economy has created more and more places that offer that and that that is creating a ripple effect throughout the rest of the economy.
Unfortunately I’m going to have to stop it there. But look, I think this is a topic that we’re going to revisit. In the time being. I’m going to have to round up and just say thank you. So Dan, Anne, Chris and Basha, I really appreciate you joining me. I feel like with these topics, these wide ranging topics is hard to do it justice and bring all of your expertise. But I think we’ve made a good start, and I really appreciate you taking the time to join me so that we can carry on and say Thank you.
Thank You, Caroline, and we really appreciate you. Thank you so much. This is really fun.
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