Law Firms

Work quality is the No. 1 reason associates leave, law firm survey says

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The top reason associates leave their law firms is dissatisfaction with work quality, according to a survey of 128 law firms by the NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education.

The survey of law firms in the United States and Canada found that associate attrition dropped to 16 percent last year, citing an article summarizing the top findings by legal recruiters Tina Cohen of the Chicago Associate Practice Group and Jennifer Henderson of Major Lindsey & Africa.

“However, on average, for every 25 new associates hired, 17 other associates left last year,” they write in the article (sub. req.) published by the Law Firm Partnership & Benefits Report. The cost of losing an associate average between $200,000 and $500,000, according to the recruiters.

Associates will always be required to handle routine work, but they are also eager to do substantive work to grow and demonstrate their knowledge, Cohen and Henderson say. Law firms can provide substantive opportunities through pro bono programs and trial advocacy programs. Firms can also involve associates in discussions about case strategy. And firms can make sure associates have contact with clients.

The No. 2 reason associates leave law firms is because they want to pursue a specific practice interest. According to Cohen and Henderson, law firms may be able address concerns by associates who feel pigeonholed by offering work on different types of cases. Firms might be able to accommodate an associate who wants to change practice areas entirely by “retooling” that person—an accommodation that would cost less than hiring a new associate.

Cohen and Henderson also suggest that law firms:

• Create a work coordination system to balance associate work flow in slow and busy times.

• Make new associates feel welcome by assisting with introductions, perhaps through scheduled lunches and other activities.

• Provide meaningful and regular training, along with mentoring.

• Clearly communicate the path to partnership and promotion, as well as the compensation structure.

• Minimize associate contact with difficult partners.

Updated at 10:29 a.m. to correctly state that the NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education conducted the study.

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