Part 2 of 2 part series: The Art of Lateral Hiring and Retention



Although this two-part article was written with lawyers in mind, the hiring and retention of any and all employees is the key to a successful firm and HR managers, along with law firm hiring partners, should work closely with any outside recruitment agency to make sure your firm's long term goals are communicated and accurately represented.

Retention of top talent in law firms, especially at the associate level, is becoming an increasing problem, particularly in an environment where the pool of mid -level experienced professionals is decreasing. For law firms, this is a very expensive problem that costs a firm somewhere around $325,000 per associate lost in training and administrative fees, not to mention the price of losing an associate to the competition. As a recruiter, I am often asked by my clients what they can do to retain their top talent put in place long term recruitment plans in order to accommodate both "healthy" turnover and expansion. What is important for a firm to understand first is the distinction between healthy turnover v. unhealthy turnover.

Healthy v. Unhealthy Turnover
Every organization undergoes healthy turnover. For a law firm, it means that it is constantly auditing employee performance and taking action when this performance is not in line with the firm's goals and standards. Not only is a firm making business decisions and setting goals, it is recognizing the need for, and establishing new roles to meet these goals. Healthy turnover at an associate level is somewhere around 10%. No turn over, or not enough turn over, can be just as detrimental to a firm as too much turnover. It prevents a firm from growing in the right direction. A firm may simply be keeping employees that are under-performing or developing roles around current and internal personnel, as opposed to sourcing and recruiting the best talent possible in order to create a brand known for hiring and retaining top legal professionals.

However, increased turnover, especially at the associate level, at minimum is the cause of frustration and a decrease in morale, blemishing the corporate culture of a law firm. Other larger concerns from many firms is how increased turnover influences their branding, the unavoidable negative affect on their bottom line, and how it directly impacts a partners practice group, productivity, his or her work load, mentor-ship programs, and the decrease in service of their existing clients due to the change in hands. In short, a firm must be aware of what it takes to retain key talent, otherwise it risks losing their investment to competition.


Despite what people think, my job as a recruiter is not an easy one. Lawyers do not move, usually, without careful consideration and without good reason (absent special circumstances such as extreme situations in the workplace, a need to relocate because of a spouse, desire to go in-house, etc.). Unlike support staff, who I can lure away from a position for something as simple as an easier commute, a better title, a $5,000 per year increase in pay, an opportunity to not have to work for a difficult partner or associate, or less or more overtime, a lawyer wants to have a reason to stay at one place and move up the ladder and become a trusted and respected member of a firm. There are however, three things almost every lawyer tells me that are imperative when considering a move, and at least one, if not all three of these things, are not being met at their current law firm: 

  • Flexibility 
  • Transparency 
  • Compensation 

It was often the case that lawyers were required to be in the office well beyond the hours necessary to complete their actual work load. These were known to many as face hours. If you walked the halls of the firms at 8pm you would see many associates still at their desks afraid to leave before their colleagues. Most, but not all law firms, have done away with this culture. However, when choosing firms, it has even gone a step beyond being able to leave when the work is completed. When given a choice between a higher salary and a firm with a good work/life balance with flexible work options, a lawyer will typically choose the firm that realizes that traditional working styles are not always more effect