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Hiring and Retention

The War for Talent: Great Expectations

By Wendy Merrill

Improving retention in your law firm requires clearly defining expectations and needs.

Even as Biglaw firms signal an increase in “stealth” layoffs, there’s a lot for firms of all sizes to worry about around the subject of retaining top employees. First, it was the COVID mess. Then, the “Great Resignation” followed. Now, everyone’s abuzz about “quiet quitting.” As if reducing attrition among lawyers and staff in law firms was not exhausting enough, now there are trendy catchphrases to describe staffing woes.

The bottom line is that no matter how high a salary you offer, how flexible a schedule you provide, or how many happy hours you sponsor, without clear and enforceable expectations for your lawyers, staff and leadership, any innovative retention measures are like throwing darts blindfolded.

Three Steps Toward Improving Retention in Your Law Firm

The road to retention is paved with intentionality, and it all starts with documentation.

Here are three steps your firm can take and should take toward improving morale and retention:

  • Define your ideal lawyer at the associate and partner level.
  • Document job descriptions and processes for staff.
  • Document the path to partnership.

1. Your Lawyers

The key to securing sustainable success is clear and consistent branding. If you do not clearly define and communicate your expectations of attorneys, how can they be effective ambassadors for the firm’s brand? Producing and socializing a document that lays out the definition of your firm’s ideal attorney, both at the associate and partner level, is the only way to support your lawyers’ path to fulfilling their objectives. Think of it as a combination of a job description and branding bible, and make sure that it is detailed, well-communicated, and used as both a guide and a measuring tool.

2. Your Staff

The war for talent rages on not only in the attorney space, but in the law firm staffing world as well. Seasoned staff need guidance, recognition and support to perform, as they are the critical foundation of every firm. So many organizations, however, neglect to create the systems and processes necessary to ensure efficiency and continuity. Providing clear job descriptions along with establishing intelligent systems is the first step toward boosting your staff’s productivity — and job satisfaction. In addition to communicating expectations and providing accountability, your firm should incorporate the documentation of standard operating procedures into staff management to facilitate succession and ensure continuity.

3. Your Partners

Without strong, skilled and aligned partners, a firm cannot grow. Invest in current and future leaders to ensure they have the skills to think strategically and successfully run the business. Absent an explicit description of what is expected of partners, they cannot be expected to intuit what they need to do to contribute to the firm’s success. If your firm does not have a path to partnership document that lays out clear expectations for each partner, there’s a high likelihood of frustration, disappointment and anxiety among the group.

Partners are fiduciaries of the firm, but without a clear description of what this entails, the firm’s leadership may not be as strong as it needs to be.

Improving Retention in Your Law Firm Requires Defining, Documenting and Communicating Expectations

If your firm has not recently reviewed its expectations of associates, partners or staff, it is time to do so. In addition to defining expectations, it is critical to document them and effectively communicate them firmwide. Adhering to agreed-on standards is the best way to foster a healthy culture, improve retention and position your firm for sustainable growth.

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Wendy Merrill Wendy Merrill

Wendy Merrill is Director of Strategic Consulting for Affinity, focusing on helping law firms position themselves for sustainable success in a rapidly changing environment. Before joining Affinity, Wendy served as an Executive Vice President at DRI, the largest bar association for civil defense attorneys. Since 2012, she has worked with thousands of professionals around the world providing strategic planning, professional development programs, leadership development training, marketing strategy, and business development expertise. She is also a published author, internationally known speaker and facilitator, and growth strategy coach. An avid horsewoman, Wendy enjoys cooking and Italian travel as well.

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