Attorney Turnover in the Current Environment
July 27, 2020
In today’s environment, attorneys want to have flexibility, which includes the ability to work remotely, and vacation days that can actually be used.
In these uncertain times, attorney turnover has become more problematic. It is now more important, therefore, for law firms to provide a stable environment to retain their lawyers. It’s equally important to establish a good onboarding experience for new lawyers joining the firm. Management must be flexible, understanding that each attorney will have different requirements, and that no two people or practices will be alike. It takes a lot of time and effort to properly integrate lateral attorneys as well as attorneys without a book of business. So, it is imperative that all members of the firm, including support staff and business partners, participate in this integration.
Reasons Attorneys Will Leave a Firm
Financials. Attorneys will leave a firm if the firm’s financial situation is not made available to them. Partners usually do not want to share their compensation with non-equity attorneys, but sharing an overall balance sheet or profit and loss should be enough to relieve any concerns.
Very few law firms actually have a strategic plan. A five-year plan should be readily available and shared with everyone in the firm.
Compensation. A firm should always pay one dollar over market price for all employees. The cost of replacing an employee is expensive — approximately three months of that person’s salary. Turnover can cause unneeded expenses and have a negative impact on the firm’s culture.
Environment. In today’s environment, attorneys want to have flexibility, which includes the ability to work remotely, and vacation days that can actually be used. So many vacation days are “left on the table.” Such an environment will create long hours but also decreased levels of productivity. The stereotypical 9 to 5 workday no longer exists. Even support staff are staggering hours.
Technology. Because so many firms have been forced to implement a remote work policy for all employees during the pandemic, technology has moved to the forefront. If a firm is not using current technology, attorneys will seek an environment that does. The younger population depends on working virtually as do most clients today. Before the pandemic, a cloud environment with integrated software applications was considered an option. Today, it is required in order to properly work from many locations. Clients are expecting the use of such technology as well.
Clients. Attorneys will leave a firm if their clients are not properly supported. Today, more and more clients hire entire law firms which include not only quality attorneys, but also quality support staff. Again, it is important that the firm is current. Clients are now asking firms about cybersecurity and their remote work policies.
Professional Development. All employees must be treated as part of the team. Many law firms mistakenly believe that attorneys will not leave due to the coronavirus pandemic. Attorneys will move on if they do not believe that their efforts are valued and supported or if they believe the firm is not financially secure. Professional development for personnel, along with upgrades in technology and security, demonstrates a personal investment in each member of the team. It exhibits stable leadership and an environment of growth.
Summary on Divestitures. Before the pandemic, attorneys would take a lot of time to research the market before changing law firms. It used to take about one year for an attorney to move. Today, attorneys can make a move more quickly. Clients may easily move with an attorney because location and law firm do not have the same importance that they did just a year ago.
Attorneys will be looking more and more to join firms with current policies and procedures which will include up-to-date technology and a stable firm culture.
Reasons Attorneys Join a Firm
Marketing. Law firm management teams are beginning to recognize that marketing is critical to survival. When an attorney joins a firm, that person wants to make sure the firm will support marketing efforts. Marketing is not in addition to the required billable hour, it should be properly recorded and rewarded. Marketing strategies should definitely be a topic of discussion during the interview process.
Onboarding. A new attorney should be properly onboarded long before his/her first day with the firm. The firm’s administrative staff should make sure all details are addressed prior to joining, such as providing proper technology and training. The attorney should be able to “hit the ground running” on his/her first day. Business partners may need to be included. A new attorney should meet peer and support staff during the interview process. If the attorney is bringing not only clients, but other employees with him/her, those people should all be properly onboarded with the same level of investment and energy.
Technology. This cannot be overstated. Attorneys need and expect current and reliable technology. Expect them to ask what type of cybersecurity is in place, what programs the firm is currently using, whether the software is current and where the data resides.
Client Base. Many clients are more thoroughly investigating the law firms that they hire. Expect an interviewing attorney to ask for a list of the top 100 clients so he/she can ensure that one client does not represent a majority of the business. Attorneys who are bringing clients to the firm will, of course, have to perform a conflict check. It will also be important for them to determine the firm’s client base. Today, the future of some businesses is questionable. Be prepared to let new attorneys see that your firm’s future is stable.
Law Firms Must Properly Investigate Attorneys Wanting to Join Them
Attorneys will be looking more and more to join firms with current policies and procedures which will include up-to-date technology and a stable firm culture. In the same way, firms must be very sure about the attorneys joining their ranks. If the attorney is a lateral partner, the firm must perform its due diligence. Recent statistics indicate that lateral partners are only successful in transferring 50% of their projected client base. Law firms must use the same investigative criteria as attorneys when they consider hiring a new lawyer. In the near future, more firms will merge with other firms. Clients will investigate more boutique firms than larger firms. Some firms that do not adjust well to the new environment will shut down. To survive, flexibility, a stable environment, and a long-term investment in technology must be implemented.
Written by CARET Legal partner, Gail Ruopp. Gail Ruopp has acquired more than 25 years of professional experience in senior law firm management, initiating best practices in administrative operations, including: financials, accounting, lateral recruiting, personnel, day-to-day operations, systems management, and firm marketing.