The Latest Epidemic in Legal: Losing Your Talented Attorneys

It’s like nothing the legal industry has ever seen before. Lawyers are being poached at record levels while others are leaving willingly to find a new, different or better firm to work for. Additionally, some are simply starting up their own firm and making that big leap.  If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of retaining your legal talent.  So, what are most law firms doing to show appreciation, improve their firm’s culture or pay a better remuneration to their talent? The answer is all over the board. You need to ask yourself as a leader, am I doing enough? Or as the lawyer working at a law firm, are they doing enough to keep me happy?

Every day I’m hearing horror stories of senior lawyers working insane hours or doing associate-level work that they never expected. For many partner-level attorneys, losing a trusted associate may feel like the end of the world. As you know, a good associate can make or break your partner level experience in your job.  In interviewing many law firm leaders and recruiters in the space, here are three critical focus points every firm should consider to ensure they retain their most valued talent.

Talent tip #1. Talk to your people! 

Working from home has changed the way we communicate, cooperate and collaborate on matters and altered the manner in which relationships are developed. If you’re used to hanging out and talking shop in the office café, that’s not happening so much anymore. As a firm leader, it’s important to focus on asking questions and getting feedback to ensure your team is happy, productive and learning how to be the best lawyer she/he can be. Here are a few questions you might consider asking:

  • How are you doing on your projects? Anything I can help you with to ensure your success?
  • Are you okay with the number of hours you’re working/billing each week?
  • Do you have enough support to accomplish your goals for the week/month/year?
  • Are you happy with the work you’re getting and doing?
  • Are you being appropriately challenged?

While some of these questions might scare you (based on the answers you receive), the point is to get what’s REAL on the table so you can address it. There’s nothing more painful than a great attorney resigning–with no warning whatsoever.  

Talent tip #2. Improve your law firm culture NOW!

Some would say the legal industry is a slow-moving train compared to other industries like tech and media. If you’re wondering what I mean by “law firm culture,” guess what, you’re on that train. What does your firm stand for? How do the leaders demonstrate appreciation for the team bringing in the business and handling all that work? What makes you feel good about working for your particular firm? These are all questions that must be answered to better ensure your talent stays put. Here are a few thoughts on ways to bolster your firm’s culture before the end of the year:

  • Hold in-person socials or Zoom-based events that are fun and that allow the team to let their hair down and feel good about everyone.
  • Back to tip #1, ask questions and spend time getting to know your team on a more personal level. Learn about her family or about his interests. Be more than a boss.
  • Have contests, games and giveaways to make work more fun. Ask for suggestions and use them to engage the team.
  • Use 360 surveys to solicit feedback about the firm, firm leadership and overall firm culture. This will help you gauge what’s really going on without having to air all the grievances out loud. And if you use a survey, loop back with the results and identify what the firm is going to move out on—and why. Be the firm whose culture includes responding to your employees!

Talent tip #3. It’s not always about money, but sometimes it is.

My final point is that many law firms are still functioning like the wild west, meaning they are gun slingers shooting up in the air with how the firm is run. And to be fair, business can be more profitable at the top when lack of transparency is minimal. Truth be told, the firms with the best retention generally have the fairest and most up-to-date compensation plans for their attorneys. It’s not just the money but also the benefits, flexibility and support, which is just as important. A couple of points here:

  • Speak with leaders at other successful firms and see what they are doing around the compensation, benefits and work from home/office balance.
  • Take the feedback from your attorneys and leverage that information to help ensure better retention.
  • Speak with an expert in law firm compensation to rejuvenate your plan and reinvigorate your team.
  • There’s a lot of money to be made in the legal profession. When you do what’s right for others, it will come back to you in spades. 

The key to success here is to ask, listen and adapt to ensure that your people are happy and rewarded in their legal careers. As you know, people don’t leave when they are happy and feeling satisfied in their careers. Keep in mind, we are wading into some uncharted waters here, so you must consider adapting before it’s too late. 

For more information or ideas on how to improve your firm’s culture, check out my podcast BE THAT LAWYER on my website or on any major podcast platform.

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