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Legal Talent & Inclusion

Stellar Performance 2023: Retaining your firm’s most valued associates

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

In the second installment in a new series of Stellar Performance reports, we look at how law firms can best retain their associate Thomson Reuters Stand-out Lawyers

One of the key attributes of success for any law firm is its ability to move its best associate lawyers into top roles, and perhaps eventual partnership, at the firm, retaining what leaders see as the firm’s best talent and future leaders.

Further, those associates named as stand-out lawyers by their clients are undoubtedly a law firm’s most promising candidates for partner roles. Yet, despite the fact that clients have already cited their contributions, not all of these stand-out associates are aspiring to partner positions, or even looking to stay at their current firms.

In a new series of Stellar Performance Research reports, we will look at the experiences that Thomson Reuters Stand-out Lawyers have had with such critical topics as client feedback, recruitment and retention, lawyer engagement, and collaboration.

In our first report we look at formal client feedback programs, and now, we are looking at how law firms can best retain those associates that have been cited as stand-out lawyers, why these associates in particular may be flight risks, and how firms can act to keep their most promising associates on the partner track within their own firms.

Not all associates can or should become partners but stand-out associates are precisely the associates that law firms should be most eager to retain and eventually see elevated to partner.

Interestingly, of the 2,400 Thomson Reuters Stand-out Lawyers responding to our surveys in this research, only 89 are associates. Yet, stand-out associates are the ones that firms should be most interested in retaining, especially because almost one-third of them (30%) say they are “highly” or “somewhat” likely to leave their firms within the next five years.

Of course, not all associates can or should become partners, but stand-out associates are precisely the associates that law firms should be most eager to retain and eventually see elevated to partner. And while almost all (97%) stand-out associates say they are “satisfied” or “delighted” with their roles at their firms, about one-quarter of them say that partnership in their current firm is not their preferred career path. Another 43% said they are considering other career paths, from partnerships at other law firms to in-house positions elsewhere.

When asked why associates consider leaving their current law firm, the top two answers — both being cited by a majority of respondents — were because of the associate’s last or current compensation package or a perceived lack of career progression.

Despite their high satisfaction rates with their current position, their flight risk remains high as well. In addition, this group also has a lower level of buy-in at their current firms, especially compared to firm partners, and they’re generally younger and more likely to change jobs as they seek to establish themselves.

What firms can do to keep stand-out associates

The best way for firms to encourage more positive attributes in their top associates is to move these associates from the satisfied column (42% of those surveyed) to the delighted column (55%), in terms of overall job satisfaction. This depends most strongly on three factors under the firm’s control: i) genuine regard for associates’ well-being (specifically, from firm leadership); ii) clarity of goals; and iii) work allocation.

This manifests itself in a number of ways in associates’ experience. For example, most stand-out associates said they believe their manager does have genuine regard for their personal well-being; however, fewer than half “strongly agree” that firm leadership also demonstrates a genuine regard. Indeed, the most highly valued traits of law firm leaders cited by stand-out lawyers included “approachability”, a “humane and caring attitude”, “openness to feedback” and “supportiveness”.

As this report demonstrates, law firm leadership must be about more than strategy and work allocation. Indeed, firm leaders would do well to be aware of how they come across when explaining the actual decisions that they make and whether they are consistently demonstrating a genuine regard for their lawyers, especially if firms wish to retain their best associates.

Indeed, ensuring long-term engagement through these factors are a law firms’ best strategy for retaining these talented lawyers and a market edge.

You can access the full report, “Stellar Performance 2023: Retaining your most valuable associates” by filling out the form below:

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