5 Tips for Retaining Top Legal Talent in Law Firms

When top talent is consistently walking out the door, law firms will find replacing that talent costs significantly more than the cost of investing in their retention policies. The time and cost spent to recruit, onboard, and train replacement talent significantly adds up. The negative impact on productivity can be devastating. It is crucial that every law firm, big or small, invests considerable resources into their retention policies. Here are some main areas of concern that can positively or negatively affect a firm’s talent retention capabilities.

Onboarding & Training

The interviewing process is the initial component of a solid talent retention policy. Who is the first to represent the firm to potential candidates? It is important that internal recruiters, external recruiters, and hiring managers encompass the values the firm stands for when attracting highly skilled candidates. Moreover, are the hiring managers and recruiters fully on the same page? Ensuring they are when it comes to compensation, job responsibilities, workloads, etc. will help avoid a negative candidate experience and attract top talent.

It is vital that hiring managers and stakeholders invest the time to not only vet a candidate but also ensure their personality traits and career goals align with the firm’s business initiatives and culture. Focus should additionally be given on how a candidate’s differences in viewpoints and background can strengthen and add value through diversification.

Law firms should strongly consider offering internal training programs that educate in a variety of styles. People do not all learn the same (i.e., audio vs. visual learners) and a one-size-fits-all approach can handicap segments of a firm’s personnel. Providing flexible or tailored training options to staff is an important consideration while creating a diverse work environment.

Culture & Communication

Providing a respectful, inclusive, and encouraging work environment is a requirement to retain top talent for any organization. Developing a thriving workplace culture can easily lose importance in the legal industry which is notoriously high pressure with tight deadlines. It is essential that leadership makes culture initiatives a top priority to ensure they are considered an employer of choice.

Work/life balance can be an issue for a firm if their talent is walking out the door. Long days and high levels of stress have had legal professionals depart their current employer or change careers completely. Reducing this type of burnout is possible by offering creative solutions. One immediate option available to any organization is moving to hybrid work-from-home opportunities. Another possibility would be to utilize a temporary staffing service or hiring a capable floater that can help reduce pressure when workloads get too demanding. Increasing PTO or vacation days is another technique utilized to decrease burnout. Again, these items will take an investment of time and money, but it is important to ask if that investment is higher than the cost of replacing the firm’s current talent pool?

It is equally important to encourage staff to build relationships with colleagues throughout the firm. Employees want to stay at a workplace where they feel valued and cared for. These feelings well produce highly efficient and conducive teams. Catered or potluck lunches can create this level of engagement as well as team-building activities outside the workplace. Utilizing work hours for these types of events will likewise invite positive feelings and loyalty, because the colleague would not have to take time away from their personal lives.

Firms should be providing transparent and open lines of communication with all of their employees to ensure their concerns and goals are being fully understood. If a firm is not fully engaged with their staff, how will leadership or HR be addressing their concerns or ambitions? When organizations are provided with honest feedback from their personnel, they are afforded the opportunity to mitigate talent losses before they actually occur.

Mentorship & Development

Law firm attorneys and support staff will additionally leave for new challenges with a different job role with more complex cases/clients, or for leadership opportunities. Firms should encourage professional mentorship by motivating staff to take on initiatives, projects, or cases that will be of interest to them. Authorizing time for pro bono work can also add meaning to a colleague’s job by giving back to the community and providing a change of pace from their normal day-to-day activities.

Career development opportunities for staff should be clear and available in a variety of options, not just a path to partnership or to the top of the firm. When a firm is open to alternative career opportunities it provides talented, tenured employees the comfortability and security to ask if they can switch practice areas or roles inside the firm. This will provide HR the runway space needed to accommodate an employee’s request, rather than scrambling when the employee’s two weeks’ notice is given.

Compensation & Recognition

Salary, raises, bonuses, and other means to recognize accomplishments are necessary to retain top talent and will be well met. Law firms should be staying in touch with market trends and reevaluating their compensation packages to ensure their overall offerings are in line with their competitors.

Money isn’t everything, but it certainly is a big factor. Compensating attorneys and support staff with high wages should not be considered a tool to increase retention. Employees attracted to this strategy will have little loyalty and will simply leave once a better offer is made. There needs to be a rounder, more wholesome approach to retention policies outside of compensation. Firms that provide rich benefit packages produce high levels of loyalty within the firm, it is a consistent form of sincere recognition to every member of the firm. Examples include 100% employer-paid health insurance, employer contributions to the cost of a family member’s insurance, guaranteed or high 401k matches, and offering an array of ancillary benefits.

Recognizing colleagues periodically by voicing praise, checking in, and by providing support is just as significant as compensation. There is a slew of options for law firms when it comes to their recognition programs. The key is consistency and ensuring that recognition is not putting a band-aid over poor management styles or a toxic work environment.

Additional Retention Initiatives

Having a third party conduct exit interviews and report their findings, in a guaranteed anonymous fashion, will allow more honest insight into why an employee left. Retention training for partners, admin, HR, and senior associates can go a long way in retaining talent. A firm can also look to replicate certain departments that have been successful with retaining their employees.

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