The Law of Retention: Keeping Your Top Talent

The Law of Retention: Keeping Your Top Talent



After a rigorous screening process, you’ve just hired the best young lawyers possible to your firm. They show not only poise and resourcefulness in and out of the courtroom, but tremendous communication and people skills, and potential leadership qualities as well…

…and the odds of you referring to them as your “former associates” in only a few years’ time are greater than you’d like to admit. Don’t worry, it’s not just you. Law firms both large and small have had a great deal of difficulty in recent times with retention. What is it that has the latest generation of lawyers moving on so frequently? The causes aren’t really surprising: rigid and draining work demands, poor leadership, a lack of mentoring, and toxic work culture. Luckily, the solutions aren’t that surprising either. Today we will address these issues, and the pragmatic steps you can take to make sure they don’t cost you your best attorneys.

Balance, burnout, and relief

There has been a recent cultural shift in the practice of law. Many lawyers no longer view the sheer amount of billable hours they’ve banked as proof of their occupational success, or as a source of satisfaction. In fact it is this demand of time, and the crushing level of stress it brings with it, that sends many a talented lawyer packing.

Persistent high levels of work-related stress take their toll on lawyers. Where does the stress come from, exactly? Intense competition, incredibly high work volumes, tight deadlines, and rising expectations with billable hours, to name a few. Long term exposure to these kinds of demands has been linked to conditions like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue, and weakened immune systems. Moreover, lawyers are at greater risk for developing clinical depression and anxiety disorders than professionals in most other fields.

It should come as no surprise that lawyers are quick to leave this behind after only a few years. Law firms would be wise to implement stress-management programs and other wellness solutions to help reverse this. When your associates express a need for relief, or request time off, it’s in your best interest to listen to them. Why is this? To begin with, most lawyers, in accordance with the image society has of them, will do all they can to conceal the effects of work-related stress. They will try and maintain that steely veneer until they reach a crisis point. If your associates have been vocal about stress, then it’s highly possible that crisis stage isn’t far off.

We know what you might be thinking: Aren’t these kinds of stress-relief programs costly, and time consuming? Moreover, wouldn’t reducing hour requirements, or hiring on a part-time basis be equally as costly? To put it simply, your firm stands to lose more money if you don’t consider these options. In addition to high turnover, ignoring the issue of chronic job-related stress can lead to an increase in sick-leave and disability claims. Count on productivity and quality of work taking a nosedive, as well. As the title of this post suggests, you want to keep your top talent, but you also must consider keeping this talent in top form.

Battling biases, reducing toxicity

Beyond long hours, working at a law firm brings with it high levels of competition. While a competitive edge is necessary (so much depends on the aggression attorneys bring to their work), too much focus on competition can adversely affect workplace culture.

How would you describe the culture of your practice? The answer to this question is very important, because office culture can make or break a firm’s ability to retain associates. What else contributes to toxic culture? A lack of general kindness, or sense of fraternity among senior and junior partners only scratches the surface. Poor communication and a lack of transparency are common problems, as are the practices of poaching or hoarding clients. A lack of mentoring from senior associates to their juniors is also an issue, as is bias and open ridicule of those who request reduced hours.

These are just a handful of the triggers that send many lawyers out the door. If you are smart enough to know that a major shift is needed in the culture of your practice, then you also know that this kind of shift begins with you. As you probably guessed, it can’t be made over night. Just remember that this generation of lawyers places great value in the job they do, but also on the work-life balance. To them, the quality of the job is greater than the sum of its billable hours, and they will pledge their loyalty to a law firm that understands the value of teamwork. A win for one is, at the end of the day, a win for all.



Brian Torchin

| HCRC Staffing | |