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The Legal Employer Checklist to Retain Top Legal Talent

I’ve had the opportunity to converse with many legal employers about what they want to accomplish and who they need to hire to to do it.

Legal employers spend a lot of time thinking and talking about talent. Talent departures are costly and disruptive events across all law firms. With all the emphasis on lawyer talent development, I always find it interesting that so many firms seem to struggle with being able to retain their top talent.

After many conversations with happy—and not so happy—lawyers, here’s what I know:

  • Close to half do not respect a partner or supervisor they have to report to;
  • Many believe they will be working someplace else within 12 months;
  • More than half have different values than their firms and firm leaders;
  • Almost all share goals are are not aligned with the plans their employers have for them;
  • Almost all share that they feel undervalued or unappreciated by their firm.

Great associates don’t quit working for firms, they quit working for partners. Regardless of tenure, position, title, etc., talented lawyers who voluntarily leave tend to do so out of some type of perceived disconnect with leadership. Those who love where they are feel challenged, engaged, valued, and rewarded—emotionally, intellectually, and financially. They also perform at very high levels.

So for the legal employers out there, here are a few “truths” I can share with you to retain the best talent:

  • Take the time to understand your attorneys. Find ways to express care. Invest in their development, and lead them well.
  • Align your team’s passions with your firm’s or department’s pursuits. Otherwise, you unknowingly encourage them to seek their passions elsewhere.
  • Talented lawyers are wired to improve processes, create efficiency, and add value. They will be able to spot issues and innovate. The best leaders would not limit that drive, but let them apply their talents and energies to bring value to the firm.
  • No matter how smart or talented a lawyer is, there’s always room for growth and development. If you place restrictions on a person’s ability to grow, they’ll leave you for a firm who won’t.
  • Keep your promises. Broken commitments are worthless, but promises kept are invaluable. Leaders who are not accountable to their teams will eventually be held accountable by their teams.

Sure, lawyers enjoy a comfortable paycheck for their work. But if you fail to care about your lawyers at a human level, at an emotional level, they’ll eventually leave you regardless of how much you pay them. Talented lawyers have good thoughts, ideas, insights, and observations. If you don’t listen to them, I can guarantee you someone else will.

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