Law Practice

What Associates Want (It Isn't Partnership)

What associates want varies, so it can be difficult to pinpoint all of their concerns. But, by overlooking the issues they consider important, law firms are losing out on opportunities to increase associate satisfaction and retain valued attorneys, a legal consultant says.

For starters, law firm administrators need to realize that associates don’t necessarily object to hard work, and only about 5 percent are highly unhappy with their jobs. But there are four different types of associates, and although their job performance is similar what they want is much different, Hildebrandt Int’l. says in an executive summary of its new “Understanding Associates” study. In particular, partnership appears to be a key goal only for one of the four groups.

Career Practitioners—the group to which most law firms market—want to build a traditional law practice and become a partner.

Flexibility Seekers (the least satisfied with their jobs) aren’t necessarily parents, but value flexible hours and alternative career options.

Called Lawyers are associates with a calling to practice law.

Willing Workers are willing to be managed and are relatively happy with law firm life, but aren’t particularly passionate about the law or willing to sacrifice personal life for job advancement.

By marketing only to career practitioners, many law firms are offering savvy competitors a chance to steal seasoned associates by better addressing their needs, according to Hildebrandt. Just as they develop different marketing strategies to appeal to different clients, law firms need to take the same approach with their own associates, the consultant recommends.

The executive summary also notes that women, in general, find law firm life less satisfying than men do. “Both seem to start their legal careers with similar aspirations, but while men’s interest in a career in private practice and partnership increases with experience, women’s interest decreases,” it reports. Given the number of women now included in the profession, addressing this gap is “a business priority rather than a diversity issue.”

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