10 Ways Legal Managers Can Keep Their Best People in a Tight Hiring Market

By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD

It’s no secret that low morale and high turnover go hand in hand. But in a candidate-friendly market, it’s more important than ever to energize your staff and foster a happy workplace. Your best people know they have many other potential opportunities. Read on for 10 steps you can take to make sure you keep them.

1. Share the vision. Individual legal professionals sometimes work on separate aspects of a case or project, and never really comprehend how their tasks fit in the larger scheme of things. One of your jobs as a legal manager is to help them connect the dots. When employees understand how their work contributes to the whole, they’ll have a greater sense of accomplishment and job satisfaction.

2. Give employees interesting work. No one wants to be bored. Consider the unique skills sets, interests and personalities of your legal staff, and ensure you’re maximizing their potential. For those who are especially talented, offer them progressively challenging tasks, and let them know they have a promising in-house career path. (See also Step No. 6)    

3. Encourage autonomy. Trust your team members to make good decisions. Your role as a supervisor is to offer guidance, oversight and feedback, not micromanage. Employees are happiest when they realize their boss has confidence in their decision-making process.

4. Don’t go negative. When mistakes happen, avoid harshly criticizing them, which only serves to instill fear and discourage risk. Instead, treat missteps as learning opportunities. Debrief as a team and discuss how the situation could have been better handled. Punishment pushes people away, while rewards increase productivity.

5. Promote work-life balance. From legal secretaries to senior attorneys, it’s easy for any legal professional to allow work to dominate their lives. But it’s a quick path to burnout for them. Legal managers can help employees juggle their personal and professional lives by offering flextime, telecommute days, a compressed workweek and other alternative work schedules. In addition, set a good example by using all your own vacation days and not being a workaholic boss.

6. Shake up the routine. No matter how much a legal professional enjoys their job, doing the same tasks day in, day out can quickly lead to boredom. Inject variety into the workplace — and be creative! Bring in food trucks or treat your team to lunch offsite. During slow periods at work, give everyone an occasional Friday afternoon off. Create a corporate culture that values periodic relaxation.

7. Volunteer together. Many law firms find that offering pro bono services for a good cause gives the team a renewed sense of purpose and pride in their jobs. Another option is to allow employees to choose their favorite cause, and then give them time during the workday to volunteer their time supporting it.

8. Acknowledge their accomplishments. Build morale by recognizing employees when they do exceptional work or go above and beyond. These gestures could range from shout-outs during regular team meetings to spot bonuses. Sincerely offered thank-you’s are foundational to a happy workforce.

9. Promote high achievers. The ultimate morale booster is, of course, a promotion. Not just a title upgrade and new business cards but also an increase in salary. Use reliable r
esources like the Robert Half Legal 2019 Salary Guide to determine what a competitive wage in like in your area.

10. Offer professional development and training. Every member of your legal team has career aspirations. You can assist them in achieving their goals by helping them deepen their knowledge base and develop their leadership skills. When employees see the firm is willing to invest in their future, their sense of loyalty increases.

With today’s extremely low unemployment rate, it would be very difficult — not to mention expensive and time-consuming — to lose one of your top legal specialists. Improve retention with proactive measures that increase your team’s overall satisfaction with their jobs.