Exit Interviews Offer Critical Insights to Improve Staff Retention


By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD, Robert Half


As the legal hiring market becomes more competitive, our organization wants to strengthen the retention of our existing staff. What questions should we ask departing legal professionals during exit interviews that could guide our retention efforts? 


While conducting “stay” interviews in order to pinpoint and address issues that would cause your staff to leave in the first place, exit interviews can be valuable because departing workers are likely to be candid about their experiences with your firm or legal department. Assuming their departure was on good terms, departing staff should be happy to offer constructive criticism that can help you improve your engagement and retention strategies.  
Asking the following questions in your own words of all departing employees can help you piece together common trends. 


When and why did you start looking for a new job? 

Perhaps these employees didn’t feel they were given projects they wanted to work on, or their opportunities to advance were limited or pay didn’t match their workload. Ask whether there one single moment that prompted the decision to leave or a succession of incidents? Either way, if you know what went wrong and when, you can take steps to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. 

Did you feel you were given everything you needed to be successful at this job? 

Did the departing worker feel underappreciated by managers or partners? Did they receive the training they needed or requested? Should you have brought in contract professionals to provide support? Perhaps it was a failure to update tech tools such as your discovery software. If the person leaving felt unsupported, you can bet some of your remaining staff feel the same. The good news is that you still have the chance to turn things around with those remaining. 

Did your job description change unexpectedly while you were in your role? 

No one should be blindsided by new responsibilities or overloaded with extra work they didn’t anticipate. Asking this question will allow you to trace the arc of your departing worker’s career, including what may have trigger to disillusionment and the later desire to move on.  

Would you ever consider rejoining the company? Under what circumstances? 

Perhaps the answer will be a straightforward “no.” Otherwise, always leave the door ajar so that high performers know they would have a second chance to shine. Take particular note of any conditions attached to returning, such as changes to your organizational culture or more opportunities for advancement.  
One final point. The time to act on any insights gleaned from your exit interviews is right away. Postpone taking action, and you will lose any sense of momentum and urgency.  

Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract, temporary and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit RobertHalf.com.