Law Firm Management: Associate Development For Greater Retention

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Associate Development For Greater Retention

The point of associate development is to expand the knowledge of the attorney beyond their current role. It focuses on growth and future performance instead of immediate roles in the law firm. Law firms that invest in the development of their existing associates reap the rewards of greater retention by helping their associates become more productive and capable of operating on a higher level. Why don’t all firms do this, and how can law firms effectively develop their associates’ skills?

It is unknown why most law firms do not have development plans in place for greater retention of their associates. A Leopard report shows that on average 47% of laterals leave within the first 3 years of hire (lateral associates who entered top 200 firms between 1/1/2012 and 12/31/2015) and 46% of all new associated leave during the same time frame (new associates who entered top 200 firms between 1/1/2012 and 12/31/2015). It is not like all firms have low retention/success scores. The same report shows top 200 firms with up to 81% retention of their associates, while other firms suffer from up to 78% attrition. The loss of three-quarters of the recently hired workforce is a great knock to a firm’s bottom line. Regardless of a firm’s financial success, no ops manager wants to lose millions in lost bonuses, salary and hours in recruiting, training, onboarding, etc. costs.

How Can Law Firms Start to Develop Their Associates?

  • Challenge associates. To develop associates, law firms must be willing to challenge them. Allow associates to take on tasks or projects that stretch beyond their abilities. Let them work on new types of cases or with a Associate Developmentclient with special challenges that makes the case more difficult to deal with. Stretching the associate’s skills and experience will make them stronger as an employee and has the added benefit of demonstrating to them that you trust them.
  • Respect the associates’ vision. When developing an employee, start with their career vision. Begin the conversation with where they see their legal career in the short- and long-term and about the type of skills they want to develop. If they don’t have a specific idea about the skills they need, work to help them gain clarity through a mentoring program.
  • Recommend a mentor. Mentors are very important when developing an associate. Not only can mentors provide feedback on work performance but they can also help associates navigate the politics of a law firm and help them gain clarity on what they want with the rest of their careers. A mentor can offer clarity and offer them opportunities that steer them to the path of fulfilling their vision.
  • Hire strivers. There are two basic types of people: 1) associates who are content with their current level of performance and 2) associates who are always striving to get to the next level. When hiring new associates, try to recognize the strivers, these are the ones who are open to challenge, aren’t afraid of success, the ones you can help develop.

Investing in associate development pays off. Subscribe to the Leopard Blog for discussions development, retention, diversity, law firm insights, and other relevant topics.

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