Associate turnover at law firms is often as high as 25 percent annually. This is a problem on many levels: It can disrupt productivity and damage client relationships — and it’s expensive. According to Thomson West, law firm turnover costs the legal industry nearly $1 billion annually. Firms spend time and money onboarding associates, from recruiting to training, and must reinvest again when another associate needs to be hired to replace one that left.
Tactics for Reducing Associate Turnover
How are firms reducing their turnover, especially of millennials and younger lawyers? Firm leadership is focusing on what motivates and inspires millennial lawyers. Here are some of their tactics.
Create an Engaging Firm Culture
According to Major, Lindsey & Africa, law firms must create cultures that allow young lawyers to feel supported and engaged, develop skills, connect with mentors, and receive meaningful feedback on a regular basis. Once the culture is established, the firm must reinforce and reward behaviors that support the culture, to create a community of connectedness between associates, partners and staff.
To create a physical space that contributes to an engaging culture, some firms, like Morrison & Foerster, are offering “lounge-braries” — a hybrid lounge and library where lawyers and staff can work and socialize together. A lounge-brary houses law books and other law firm reference materials in a lounge-type setting with comfy couches and pillows.
Humanize Law and Do Good
According to JP Box, author of the ABA book “The Millennial Lawyer: How Your Firm Can Motivate and Retain Young Associates,” millennial lawyers want to make a difference in the world through the practice of law. Sandra Yamate, CEO of The Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession (IILP), echoes this point: For millennials, the impact they can make through their legal work often matters more than having an important title and a large paycheck.
Law firms are catering to young lawyers’ desires to do good by offering meaningful pro bono work. In 2018, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, which was named to the National Law Journal’s pro bono hot list, reported 99 percent of its lawyers and 100 percent of its summer associates participated in meaningful pro bono projects.
Firms are also reframing their practice areas to focus on a higher purpose: justice, not just billable hours.
Support, Mentor and Train
Law firms have learned that they can keep young associates by providing mentoring and training that encourages the lawyers’ enthusiasm for social justice. For example, Winston & Strawn has “Winston University Development System,” which provides legal skills training programs and practice-specific tools. It includes professional development opportunities, coaching services, career planning, stress management workshops, and CLE training options. These kinds of firmwide training and mentoring programs make young lawyers an integral part of the team early in their careers, which is imperative for millennials who want to make a difference right out of the gate. It also proves to lawyers that their firm cares about their careers and will invest in them.
The support system also offers meaningful and continuous feedback to help young lawyers develop their skills. This includes effective mentoring relationships and regular reviews, which have replaced the old-school annual review as the sole feedback for associates. Smart firms also offer executive and other types of coaching to help young lawyers define their career goals and path. For example, Alston & Bird offers its A&BCD Initiative, which provides group coaching to ensure their associates reach their career goals. This kind of coaching is particularly helpful in reducing turnover as it promotes meaningful career success aligned with the associates’ values and strengths.