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Question: Turnover is a constant problem at our firm. Professional staff, paralegals—even associates—leave for neighboring firms, no matter how much money is thrown at them to stay. The latest was the head of IT. The partners are frustrated, and nobody’s getting much support. What’s going on? Are there best practices for how a law firm can retain its best and brightest employees?
Cheryl Coutchie: Above-market compensation and the trappings of partnership are no longer enough to attract and retain the people needed to carry our firms into the next generation. Much has been written about the differing expectations of the multiple generations in the workforce today. Another factor in the employment relationship is the access to information—just ask Yahoo if they expected it to go viral when they eliminated working remotely. Today everybody knows what is going on in the firm next door and across the country. So, how do we retain the talent we need to compete in this challenging market?
We must focus on flexibility, transparency and engagement. There is no benefit, program or process that fits all. We need benefits that grow with people and their families over time; we need policies allowing flexibility to meet work-life demands that may be applied differently between firm members and for a single member across their tenure. The idea that “fairness” requires that a rule be applied to all in the same manner is passé and counterproductive. Decisions and the reasons for them must be transparent.
Ultimately, it is about engagement—about creating an environment where people are exposed to interesting work and are valued for their contributions. A place where people feel needed and are allowed to contribute to something they perceive as important. It is not about implementing the newest and best program. It is about relationships and culture-making.
Cheryl Coutchie has been the Director of Human Resources for Warner Norcross & Judd LLP for the past 19 years. WN&J has been repeatedly recognized as a 101 Best and Brightest Employer, a Crain’s Cool Place to Work, a Detroit Free Press Top Workplace and with Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility. Turnover in 2012 was 3.8 percent.
Maureen Kolb: A high-potential employee announces her resignation. She is going to a different downtown firm, about the same size as the one she is leaving. The pay is a little better, but not significantly. She is most excited about working directly with the leader of the real estate law department. She will actually share his office, go to court with him, write his briefs and shadow him for two years. She has no ill will toward her current firm. She is excited about her new opportunity.
The managing partner asks the firm administrator to do an exit interview. They learn that she felt there was no professional development at the firm. Partners brought in the business and the associates worked for the partners. She had been there for three years and never felt that anyone truly took a vested interest in her career.
What should the managing partner and firm administrator do? With whom do they share this information? The head of the real estate department is a high producer, but has not done much to develop her staff. She is not unkind; she is indifferent. To her, work is work. And she is really good at what she does.
It’s a frustrating situation—and a common one. Here are ideas to consider concerning what makes people stay.
Maureen Kolb is the Founder of Cr8ive Energies, LLC. She is the author of the new book Stop Telling, Start Asking: How to Develop the People Around You by Asking the Right Questions.
Isabel Warner: There is no easy formula for how to keep your best and brightest employees, but it starts with taking the time to hire the right person for the job. Keep in mind that not all positions are created equal, even if the job title is the same. In addition to ensuring a person has the skills and experience necessary to do the essential functions of the job, consider the personalities and try to find those that will work well together.
Here are a few more tips to help you reduce turnover.
Finally, remember to say “thank you.” It seems like such a simple thing, but in the fast-paced law firm environment, saying “please” and “thank you” is often overlooked. Administrative Professionals Week (April 21-27) is a great opportunity to recognize your employees for a job well done—and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do so. High performers will go the extra mile for you when you show you need them.
Isabel Warner is the HR Manager for TroyGould PC, a mid-sized Los Angeles law firm. Isabel has worked in legal human resources for over 12 years.
No, not every law firm has a full-time administrator or professional management to guide them. Send us your questions via email, or use the comment section below, and we’ll pass them on to the experts at the Association of Legal Administrators. Watch for the best ones here in “Ask the Experts.”
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A number of law firms have recently hired a “director of well-being,” a new role charged with cultivating a healthy work environment and general work-life balance.November 14, 2018 0 1 0