How to Foster Lawyer Engagement
Young lawyers (i. e., Junior Associates) have a lot to win when they choose to join a law firm after graduation, but retaining young lawyers can be challenging.
Some of them are driven to run their own practice but for others the firm that employs them may not always offer valuable employment elements such as meaningful compensation, an effective mentoring program, fast-track career opportunities, sufficient paid time off, adequate recognition, work-life balance, and a workplace culture that encourages them to stay.
But are young graduates and Millennial associates the only lawyers that are a challenge to retain? No.
A good illustration of this is Heenan Blaikie LLP which in 2014 became the biggest law firm in Canada’s history to close up shop. With more than 500 lawyers, the firm had been losing senior people to competitors. An article in the Globe and Mail mentioned “the departure of a few partners in search of bigger paycheques elsewhere.”
My own in-depth data analysis of the Canadian labour force from 1976 to 2018 showed that Millennials do not have a lower job tenure than other generations. So, we should stop pointing fingers at the young. Anyone can leave your firm if what they value is not on the table, and age is not the only factor. There is extensive research on this.
A 2005 survey of more than 1,400 Canadian lawyers, including 846 associates from over 100 firms, showed that 62% of women associates and 47% of men associates intended to stay with their firms for five years or less due to the need for a better work-life balance.
Mercer’s 2015 Inside Employees’ Minds Research mentioned ‘career advancement’ being among the most valued employment elements for Canadian workers. Another study from 2016 showed that we had 43,595 practicing women lawyers and 53,257 practicing men lawyers, but only 9.3% of the women were partners, compared to 22.3% of the men. If these figures reflect the situation at your firm, consider that some female lawyers may feel there are no opportunities and may leave.
In 2007 Goodman and Carr LLP closed its doors after several partners left. According to an article in Canadian Lawyer Magazine “there was a general theme that the firm lost many of its lawyers because it didn’t have a culture that fostered their retention.”
So, how can we retain lawyers today, regardless of their age?
First, don’t just assume that “staff-appreciation” gifts, staff accolades on LinkedIn, monthly cocktail events, or even fancy perks like cars will keep them around. Your HR department, or an outside HR provider, should consider adding ‘people analytics’ to the firm’s approach to workforce management. This way you can make decisions based on data so it isn’t guesswork.
Here are some examples of what you can do as a small or big firm.
1. Don’t guess what lawyers want, ask them. Hear what they have to say about your firm and what they value through anonymous surveys and exit interviews (preferably conducted by an outside firm). This will allow you to discover your blind spots as an organization and implement what is valued by your people.
2. Monitor pay. Evaluate your compensation structure against the market. Also, for each lawyer category in the firm, review pay vs. resignations and pay vs. years of practice. This will help determine if compensation at the firm is fair and if under-compensated lawyers have the tendency to leave.
3. Don’t just track the number of hours spent on a file to determine how profitable a lawyer is or client is. The relevant question for a lawyer’s productivity is if they do good work in all their files. So, for each lawyer, find out how many files were assigned, closed but not resolved (due to an unsatisfied client’s cancellation), and paid. If possible, for each lawyer, track the number of client accolades and client referrals received. This will help you understand the value of your crew and give you reasons for rewarding them.
4. Promotions encourage them to stay. For each category of lawyers, review reports such as promotions vs. revenue generated and promotions vs. diversity. This will help you determine if promotions are based on performance and for all lawyers across the firm.
Adopt these tips to better estimate risks, attract and retain the best lawyers, and drive your team engagement to new heights.