by Charles Volkert, Esq.
Renewed activity in litigation, healthcare, and general business, among other practice groups, is leading many law firms and corporate legal departments to hire both junior and experienced professionals for legal jobs.
With a strengthening economy and heightened need for top talent, your key team members may be casting their eye elsewhere, especially if they're unhappy at work. To prevent losing legal professionals to competitors, here are three major factors that affect retention rates and tips on what you can do to help your best people want to stay with your firm:
1. Proper Work/Life Balance
A key cause of dissatisfaction with legal jobs is the gap between the picture that new associates may have of the profession and the reality of the daily grind. Long hours and high stress caused by billable hours have spurred some legal professionals to leave their jobs and even to change careers. But there are ways to add flexibility and prevent burnout:
- Mitigate burnout. You can't eliminate workplace stress or billable hours, but you can help your staff manage it better. In between major caseloads, encourage your team members to take time off. But don't just talk the talk. If you never take a real vacation or find yourself constantly sending emails on weekends, you staff will feel that it's not appropriate to do so. And when workloads are high, bring in interim legal support to help reduce pressure on the team.
- Take on pro bono work. Offering free legal service to nonprofit organizations and the poor may seem non-intuitive for firms whose staff are already over-stretched. However, pro bono work is not only a great way to give back to the community but also adds meaning to people's jobs and helps them feel good about their legal careers.
2. Due Recognition
Team members who receive due recognition and helpful feedback are motivated to stay with the organization. Review your recognition strategy to see if you need to do a better job acknowledging top talent.
- Re-evaluate compensation. Money isn't the only factor in job satisfaction, but keeping your salary package competitive can help you retain valuable staff. Be sure to regularly benchmark your compensation levels against current industry trends to ensure you're keeping pace with or, ideally, offering a little more than the competition.
- Value more than work. Get to know your legal team's strengths and interests, and work with them to align their assignments with those attributes. This is a great way to increase both morale and productivity.
3. Engaged Management
When workers feel that their managers are responsive, they are more likely to stay in their jobs. Here are a few ways to show the team that you respect them and want them to grow in their legal careers.
- Be transparent. Communicate honestly and don't leave employees in the dark when change occurs. Give them a voice in decisions that affect them and keep them apprised of the organization's short- and long-term goals.
- Create a place to grow. Sufficiently challenged lawyers are satisfied lawyers. Provide growth opportunities, encourage development and mastery of different skills, and motivate staff to pursue the projects and cases that will interest them.
- Start a mentorship program. New associates sometimes feel adrift and disillusioned in their first legal jobs. Pairing senior staff with junior ones can help the latter feel more connected to the firm. A good mentoring program also shows new hires their future potential not only with the company, but in their legal careers.
There are several ways to retain your best employees. As is to be expected, the most effective strategies require commitment from management. But it's time well spent if your efforts result in reduced burnout and a more motivated team.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®,
a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also provides managed review and e-discovery services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and international markets.
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Question & Answer
I'm graduated from college not too long ago but I am fortunate to be starting a new office manager position in a few weeks and want to make the best impression that I can. Any advice on how to start my new job off on the right foot?
Congratulations on your new position! The first few weeks is the time to learn about the people and processes at your new workplace. For success in this and future legal jobs, here are some simple but important steps to take.
1. Observe, Ask, Listen and Learn
Prepare for your first day on the job the same way that you prepared for your interviews: Learn as much as you can about the company and its employees, but now from the inside. Instead of immediately jumping in with ideas carried over from your previous legal jobs, take a step back first. When you start a new job, it's more important to listen and observe than to offer suggestions right away.
You should also talk to as many people as you can, including support staff. Ask about:
- The corporate culture and standards, such as the dress code, conference call protocol and how late people typically stay.
- The relationship between your team and other departments or practice groups, including what teams you'll be working with regularly and any work history between those teams.
- Any issues or situations where you may need to tread carefully.
- Who the key players are, what roles they play and how they interact with others.
- Your manager and your legal team's preferred communication styles.
2. In It for the Long Haul
In their eagerness to make a great first impression, some people tend to overdo it. Of course you want to show your boss you're ready to give 110 percent, but there's no need to always be the last person to leave or the first to volunteer for every project. That's a recipe for burnout. As you're getting up to speed, figure out what are reasonable expectations. You shouldn't coast through your first few weeks, but do pace yourself as you're ramping up as in-house counsel at your new company.
3. Build Relationships
No one works in a vacuum. Good working relationships with your colleagues will be an important foundation of your new job. Be a team player. Get out of your office. Meet up with colleagues for lunch or drinks after work. This network of friends will be important not only as a source of vital support and assistance, but also to help you learn the unwritten rules and navigate the politics of your new workplace.
4. Ask for Feedback … and Help
As you learn your new role in this or other lawyer jobs, you'll need to know whether you're on the right track. But instead of waiting for feedback and suggestions, be proactive. Check in regularly with your boss and make sure you're meeting expectations. If you are struggling or feel you're headed in the wrong direction, don't be afraid to ask for guidance. If you suffer in silence, your manager may assume things are going smoothly for you.
Starting a new position is exciting, but it can also be challenging. You may sometimes even feel you've made the wrong choice. But just remember that getting settled in a new job is difficult for everyone. Stick with it, don't get discouraged - and one day you'll be the person showing the new hire how things are done.
Submit a career-related question to Charles A. Volkert, Esq., executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing
service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal
professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Charles will answer one question