Law Firms

What factors drive attorney turnover? Compensation isn't the only issue, new report says

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Compensation may be the proximate cause that entices associates to leave their law firms, but “the root cause may run deeper,” according to a report released Thursday.

Among surveyed associates who reported being most likely to leave their firms, their current compensation was cited as a factor by 42% and the compensation system was cited as a factor by 32%, according to the report.

But other factors also were important, including feeling underappreciated (30%), lack of progression (29%), and lack of genuine regard for their well-being (25%).

Those results and other report findings show that “compensation alone will not solve the problem,” said the report, titled Law Firms Competing for Talent in 2022: Will Lawyers Stay or Will They Go?, available at the bottom of this summary. The findings were published by the Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at the Georgetown University Law Center and the Thomson Reuters Institute.

The study was based on a survey of more than 900 associates.

When all the associates surveyed were asked what they liked best about their law firms, only 9% listed compensation and benefits as the top factor.

More selected their colleagues (30%), law firm culture (22%), quality of work (21%), and flexible work practices (20%), the report said.

Associates were also asked to rank their firms on a scale of 1 to 10 for several factors. Among associates who said they were more likely to leave their law firms, the average law firm score was lowest for rewards for contributions (6.0), firm direction and strategy (6.4), opportunities for growth (6.5), and support from fee earners (6.9).

The report categorized law firms as “stay firms” if they were in the top 25% of firms with the lowest turnover. “Go firms” were in the top 25% of firms with the highest turnover.

The study also found:

• Associates, equity partners and other professional fee earners at stay firms produced and wanted more billable hours than did their counterparts at go firms.

• Lawyers at stay firms expressed higher levels of satisfaction than lawyers at go firms for reasons such as being treated fairly, ability to be themselves, firm management, rewards and compensation, and opportunities for growth.

• Lawyers at stay firms also expressed higher levels of satisfaction with support functions such as information technology, finance, marketing and innovation.

Reuters and Above the Law are among the publications with coverage of the report.

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