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  • Gerard Petersen

"What about me ?"​ A cry from the frontline of Legal recruitment

What so many seemingly fail to understand is the inextricable link between “self”, “relationships” and “work”

Back in 1982 (showing my age here) there was an Australian number-one hit song “What About Me” by Aussie rock band Moving Pictures (let’s ignore the later Shannon Noll version). It was the second highest selling single that year and went on to become a hit in the US.


In it there’s a catchy verse:


"What about me, it isn't fair

I've had enough now I want my share

Can't you see? I want to live!

But you just take more than you give..."


This song, this verse, has kept jumping into my head over the last few weeks in response to what we are consistently hearing from lawyers about their (lack of) relationship with their Partner/firm. It appears an increasing trend and a worrying one.


The primary reason we find lawyers are unhappy in their workplace is because they feel like nobody actually cares about them as an individual let alone communicates with them about their personal and professional aspirations, challenges, struggles. Rather, they feel simply like a revenue producing commodity.


This stuff sounds deep, airy fairy even, doesn’t it? But it’s not and it doesn’t have to be. Nor should it be seen as a weakness or being “needy” to expect someone to care about you in the workplace. It’s just a simple human desire for connection, attention and affirmation from a person who you are working for. We’ve all wanted it, there’s nothing mysterious about it, but gee it appears very hard to come by in the current workplace. 


We can speculate the reasons why this is the case – the low EQ or social skills of the manager, an inability to have mature or even difficult conversations, too busy, too hard, dis-interested, not a priority and so on – but whatever the reason its impact can be profound on the individual lawyer and their life. Yes, their life. 


What so many seemingly fail to understand is the inextricable link between “self”, “relationships” and “work”. Lawyers are real people too – with partners, families, financial commitments, personal struggles and everybody has some sort of sh*t in their lives at some point in time. That’s just life. 


We all know that if you are engaged, happy and motivated at work it permeates in the other areas of your life. The opposite is also very, very true.  

 The results of a recent survey of 1,051 Australian employees, conducted by mental health organisation SuperFriend revealed:


- Barely one-third of managers are accessible when you need them and will listen

- Only 29% receive any praise and recognition for good performance and achievement

- Only 27% of managers set a good example for a happy, healthy and productive workforce

- Only 25% of managers provide regular feedback in a way that helps employees improve their performance 


In our role as Legal Talent Agents and Career Advisers we are uniquely privy to the real, unfiltered reasons why lawyers are leaving certain Partners, certain practice groups and certain firms. Unfortunately, our day-to-day anecdotal evidence from lawyers is very consistent with this alarming research.


Is it any wonder then why we see so many individuals, from Partner to junior lawyer leaving their firm in search of somewhere with, as one high performing Partner told me the other day, “more heart”.


I know first-hand how hard it is to run a business, generate revenue, do BD and manage people. But if our people truly are our greatest asset and we want to attract and retain the best talent then why aren’t we all showing a genuine interest in the humans who devote a large part of their life working for us. They’re not a commodity.


When was the last time you really engaged with the individuals in your team?