Law Firms

How Blackwell Sanders Cut Attrition in Half

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Kansas City firm Husch Blackwell Sanders reports it has cut its attrition in half after it cut its lockstep evaluations of associates in 2001.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to compensate, bill for and advance associates based on how many years they’ve shown up for work,” partner Peter Sloan told the Los Angeles Times in a story about the student-led effort, Building a Better Legal Profession.

Sloan notes that the firm evaluates young lawyers based on learned skills. They also give credit for pro bono work and other initiatives. Clients are pleased with this system because they pay based on an associate’s experience level rather than how many years it’s been since graduation.

Building a Better Legal Profession was formed last year by 25 law students at Stanford University who wanted to pressure law firms to change the way they hire and promote young lawyers. The group has since expanded with chapters at Harvard and Yale and counts a Facebook following of more than 1,000 students, the Times reports.

San Francisco lawyer Patricia Gillette, who co-founded Opt-In Project to retain female lawyers two years ago, is quoted saying that she’s finally seeing some progress and momentum to address retention issues. Women, she tells the Times, have “identified a problem that is now resonating with Gen Y’ers.”

But according to Davida Brook, a Stanford 1L and co-president of Building a Better Legal Profession, law firms have a way to go.

She says when she and other students ask firms what they’re doing to retain women and minorities, their questions are often met with awkward silence. She recounted for the Times an anecdote about a recruiter who was asked to elaborate on “diversity week” activities at the firm.

Brook says the recruiter paused, then offered that the firm had screened the movie Crash, which focuses on racial tensions in Los Angeles.

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