The top reasons why your law firm is losing good lawyers

Lawyer retention is a priority for most law firms. Replacing good lawyers is difficult and costly. Also, change is unsettling to a firm’s teams (and the firm as a whole). So why do so many good lawyers who are progressing well at their firm and appear to be highly successful in their careers, move on? As legal recruitment consultants, we always strive to gain a clear understanding of a candidate’s reasons for looking elsewhere. Funnily enough, we hear the same reasons time and time again. Here are the top 5…

1. Overworked

Working long hours in the law… inevitable?

When lawyers enter the legal profession there’s an expectation that the job entails long hours, including evenings and weekends. When I think back to myself as a young lawyer, I recall working five or six weeks straight without so much as a Sunday off. Granted, I didn't have children, I had plenty of energy and I was rewarded well so ultimately, I didn’t mind. But fast forward thirteen years and there's no way I could commit to a job in the same way. To do so would result in sacrificing valuable time with my family.

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Things change

Things change as we progress through our careers: ambitious young lawyers become wives/husbands/mothers/fathers and priorities shift accordingly. For those in particularly demanding roles, the additional (and full time) pressure of parenthood is usually the turning point where they say: “I just can't do it anymore.”

The ‘part-time’ lawyer

Being overworked also applies to ‘part-time’ lawyers. We repeatedly hear from lawyers on four day weeks where their caseload is the same as their colleagues who do five days. The result is that they’re sacrificing one day’s pay per week (on a £60,000 a year salary, this adds up to £12,000) for the increased stress of having to fit everything into four days. In fact, the reality is that a full-time workload over a four day week is made up in the evenings, the weekends, at lunchtime, and even on days off. Those considering a drop to four days tend to recognise this reality: that in many cases they’d end up doing the same job for less money. Perhaps paying lawyers for the hours they work, rather than 4/5ths of a wage, would help to subdue any feelings of injustice that this set up often creates? Another alternative is condensing hours: working 8.5 hours a day (rather than 7.5), which would equate to a salary of £54,400 rather than £48,000. Firms should be willing to structure pay and hours in this way.

2. Inflexibility

Law firms that take a flexible approach to work patterns (including remote working, job sharing and condensed hours) boast higher retention rates and attract the best lawyers. Some lawyers decide to leave the constraints of traditional private practice to focus on interim, freelance and project work, which invariably allows for more time off and increased flexibility around the hours worked. If you can match this kind of flexibility as a law firm, then take away the need to move in the first place.

3. Time recording and targets

Meeting billable hour requirements and consistently bringing in high fees over a period of years can wear some lawyers down; of course, others thrive off it but you can't expect all employees to fit this mould. For those who identify with the former, the pressures can create a conflict with home life and along with a variety of other reasons this spurs on a desire to move to an in-house legal environment where a lawyer's value isn't judged on the fees delivered. We often hear from firms who tell us about the great lawyers they’ve lost to in-house; this is particularly true in commercial law where firms are obliged to meet client secondment requests.

4. Toxic culture

Low morale, bad managers and unhappy colleagues make for a depressing work environment. On the flip-side, a high level of employee engagement, transparency, and a willingness to engage in constructive conflict helps to create a positive environment that sees an increase in employee happiness. Relatively inexpensive perks such as after-work drinks, dress-down Fridays, work socials and team building events, contribute to a sense of feeling valued, appreciated and ultimately, loyal.

For more on why it's important to have loyal employees, click here.

5. Salary, benefits and bonus

Switching jobs almost always leads to a pay rise. Those who stay at the same firm for many years usually experience salary stagnation whereas lawyers who make a couple of well-timed and thought out moves can see a significant monetary benefit. On this note, never take your best employees for granted: remunerate their hard work.

There’s a myriad of other reasons why good lawyers chose to move firms: to gain exposure to better quality and more complex work; to seek a higher level of training and development opportunities; or simply because they’ve got itchy feet. However, if one of your firm’s goals is staff retention, tackling all of the above is a great start.

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