Should I Stay or Should I Go? New Report Examines What Drives Lawyer Retention Amidst Competition for Talent

  • Compensation and workload are not primary factors for turnover
  • Reasons to stay include supportive firm management, opportunities for growth

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL and WASHINGTON, D.C., April 21, 2022 – Clear opportunities for career growth and supportive firm management are among the key factors more important than compensation and workload in determining whether attorneys remain at their current firms or pursue other opportunities amidst the ongoing competition for talent. These are among the findings of a new report from the Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at Georgetown Law and Thomson Reuters: Law Firms Competing for Talent in 2022: Will Lawyers Stay or Will They Go?

The report examines attributes that distinguish firms with higher levels of attorney retention (Stay firms) against those with lower levels of retention (Go firms). Attorney turnover is a growing concern; associate turnover hit a record high of 14.1% in 2021, despite associate compensation rising 12.1%.

“Something more than money must be accounting for the advantage Stay firms enjoy in terms of both lower turnover and higher productivity,” stated the report.

Lawyers at Stay firms were more likely than lawyers at Go firms to cite factors such as the people with whom they worked, the collegial nature of relationships within the firm, the supportive nature of the firm, and the quality of work they were offered as their favorite aspects of their current firm, rather than compensation. Among those associates who are considered more likely to leave their current firm, compensation was not among the factors most important to them.

“In this highly competitive market for legal talent, we know that work satisfaction drives employees who are both more productive and more likely to stay,” said Mike Abbott, head of the Thomson Reuters Institute. “Attorneys at Stay firms not only generate, but actually desire, more billable hours than their counterparts at Go firms. And this is true not only at the associate level, but at the equity partner level as well. A firm culture that encompasses meaningful work, strong support systems, and opportunities for growth can pay tremendous dividends to all stakeholders, including attorneys, firm leadership and even clients, through better client satisfaction.”

Growth Implications

Better retention may also have implications for future firm growth beyond lowering talent recruitment and training costs. While Go firms have higher average rate growth, Stay firms have higher average demand growth, which the report concludes may lead to more sustainable long-term growth. And while Stay firms are growing headcount, Go firms, on average, are struggling to reach pre-pandemic staffing levels, limiting their ability to grow revenue. In addition, Go firms have been tending to lose more equity partners, shedding attorneys who possess vital experience in business development and are high fee earners.

Another potentially worrisome note is that more associates at greatest risk of leaving are members of underrepresented communities, such as ethnic and racial minorities and LGBTQ+ attorneys.


Technology also plays a role in distinguishing Stay firms and in potentially influencing retention. Lawyers at Stay firms are more likely to view themselves as early adopters or innovators of technology. In addition, they are more likely to view collaborative and knowledge management technologies as helpful, which may indicate those firms have done a better job of integrating these technologies into their lawyers’ workflows.

Download the Law Firms Competing for Talent in 2022: Will Lawyers Stay or Will They Go? report.

The Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at Georgetown Law is devoted to promoting interdisciplinary research on the profession informed by an awareness of the dynamics of modern practice; providing students with a sophisticated understanding of the opportunities and challenges of a modern legal career; and furnishing members of the bar, particularly those in organizational decision-making positions, broad perspectives on trends and developments in practice.

Thomson Reuters

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Jeff McCoy