Turnover of lawyers and staff presents a host of challenges to law firms, small and large. The costs are significant, ranging from the loss of clients when an attorney leaves a firm to the time and resources dedicated to recruiting replacements, not to mention onboarding time and expense.
So it’s important to consider the causes of law firm turnover, how to reduce it and how to derive any possible benefits from turnover.
Find the Silver Lining
For example, the departure of an attorney, paralegal or other staff member affords a firm the opportunity to take a critical look at its staffing and ask some important questions: for example, do we need a replacement for the person who left or should we consider someone with a different skill set? Client needs change and so too should firm staffing in recognition of those needs.
Also, when a firm member leaves on good terms – which is often the case – there are opportunities to capitalize on the situation. That member may well serve as an excellent referral source for the firm. Or in cases in which a lawyer is hired by a client to provide full-time, in-house services to the client’s company, the lawyer’s former firm should consider the situation to be an opportunity to strengthen the relationship with the client. Certainly, billable hours may be impacted negatively, but if the lawyer made the move on good terms, in the long run the firm’s relationship with the client may well be much deeper than previously.
Reducing Law Firm Turnover
A potential first step in reducing turnover begins with the hiring process. Rather than taking a “sales” type approach during the interview process, that is, making an effort to “sell” an prospective hire on the idea of joining the firm, interviews should be regarded as an opportunity for a frank, open discussion – for both parties – designed to see if the firm and the candidate are a good fit. In short, a good fit and a good hire reduce the likelihood of that firm member becoming disillusioned and leaving the firm
It’s also important to keep in mind that in cases in which one or both sides decide a good fit doesn’t seem likely, it’s not the end of the world. In short, the firm and the candidate may not be a good match today, but things can change and the conditions that made the prospective match seem less than perfect and one or both sides can reconsider in the future. Think “probably no for now” rather than simply “no.”
Get off on the Right Foot
Studies have shown that the first month a new hire works for a new firm or company is more important than subsequent months, and that the first two weeks are even more crucial.
Recognizing that, firms should take a thoughtful approach about onboarding processes. Onboarding should be thorough, and new hires should feel more than just welcomed; they should feel the firm cares for them and has a vested, long-term interest in their success.
With this in mind firms should develop onboarding checklists, and then customize each new hire’s checklist based on their needs, their position, the experiences they bring with them and the firm’s long-range plans. A checklist reduces the odds of a firm overlooking a crucial onboarding element. In addition, onboarding shouldn’t end after a week or a month. Having “check-ins” with new hires at regular intervals for several months can ensure the new hire is adjusting well and is able to work effectively.
Structured interviews may also increase the likelihood of a firm making excellent hires. Each candidate for a given position should be asked similar or identical questions during the interview, so hiring manager and human resources personnel can compare have an apples to apples opportunity to compare candidates’ answers. Not to mention, this is often considered a best practice from a legal standpoint.
Final Thoughts On Law Firm Turnover
Recognizing the current economy is highly competitive for employers, as the U.S. labor market now features more than 10 million open positions, firms should take a hard look at their hiring target demographic(s) and take a critical look in the mirror to determine whether they’re offering what prospective employees are seeking. For example, the pandemic and more than 18 months of many workers working remotely has been a game changer for job seekers. For many, working at least some of the time from home is now more than a preference, it’s a work mode to which they’ve become accustomed and firms that don’t offer remote work may well be unknowingly turning away highly-qualified, desirable candidates.
What’s important, overall, is to recognize the costs and causes of law firm turnover, and take the steps necessary to control it, and capitalize on it when it’s unavoidable. And that takes self-reflection, critical thinking and a thoughtful approach to hiring, onboarding, training and every step involved in every firm member’s career.