Law Firm Associate Retention Tips: 3 Signs Your Associate Solicitor Plans to Leave!

3 Signs Your Associate Solicitor Plans to Leave! And How to Fix It…associate-law-firm-retention-advice

I’m pleased to welcome one of my new LinkedIn legal connections, Pamela DeNeuve, a Law Firm Strategist from the States, who helps retain & engage associates to increase law firm profits. Pamela pens this guest contribution sharing tips on how to retain your law firm’s associate solicitors

PS see also our guide to NQ solicitor salary information.:-

Brexit has caused controversy and uncertainty.  Law firms are looking to cut costs and to increase their internal profits.  These changes in the political structure make the legal markets vulnerable in the UK and cause knock-on effects in the economies of other countries such as Ireland and others within the EU.

Brexit has indeed jolted the legal profession. There are many unanswered questions regarding the future direction and the profitability of law firms.

These legal organisations are examining traditional internal procedures that have continued to lose money. One area is the procedures for hiring new lawyers including trainees, and one and two-year post qualification lawyers, with the use of tactics like sustainable recruiting.

Oliver, a senior partner, began to discuss this sensitive topic.

Meet Oliver – Senior Partner in a Law Firm

Oliver scowled when I spoke with him about the importance of making changes that would retain his associates who were leaving after anywhere from three months to two years.

“Do you know how many young trainees are out there begging for a job? If these young upstarts can’t appreciate the opportunity our firm has given them, plenty trainees will.”

I asked Oliver if he was frustrated when the associates he had hired and trained continued to quit. He sighed and paused for it seemed like three minutes.

He surprised me with his answer. “I was going to give you my standard reply. I don’t know why, but I will tell you the problem as I see it.”

Oliver got up and shut his door. “Hiring a new lawyer is like placing a wager. Sometimes I feel as if I would do better if I went to Hamilton Park Racecourse and bet on a racehorse. It might be a better investment. The firm invests money but more often than not, we don’t see a return on our investment.”

Oliver began to pace back and forth in his office,” I can tell you it causes disruption every time a solicitor leaves.  We continually recruit, interview, train and develop associates. It interrupts my ability to take care of my caseload these annoyances affect my productivity.”

Oliver repeated what I had seen again and again. By the time an associate starts to pay the firm back their initial outlay, the young solicitor leaves.

Oliver shook his head, “Where is their loyalty? I just don’t understand.”

In Scotland and across the UK, there is an abundance of trainees seeking the best NQ positions. However, that does not lessen the frustration experience during continued recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training process to replace a long-gone lawyer.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult for students to find traineeships in Scotland. There are still a good number of candidates coming out of courses, but fewer trainee roles available. These facts do not stop the problem of attrition, especially with women solicitors.”

Meet Nora – Two Year Post-Qualification BigLaw Solicitor

Nora was a two-year-post-qualification lawyer with a BigLaw UK international firm.  By the time I was called, she had already given her notice to leave.

“I was so excited to get the position. The interview process was difficult. When I was hired, it felt like I had found my the home for my career until…”

On paper and in her interview Nora was a great hire. She met all of the requirements:

  • Fine Education
  • LLM
  • Strong intellectual abilities
  • Motivated
  • Adaptable
  • Excellent command of written and oral communication skills
  • Works well with others
  • Stamina and good energy
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Eye for detail
  • Worked well as a team
  • Related to clients

The firm has no idea why Nora is leaving. She seemed like one more dissatisfied and disloyal young solicitor. They had invested at least £50,000, and now that investment was walking out the door.

Hugo, the senior partner, is correct. Hiring an associate has become a wager and even more so with the arrival of Millennials in the workplace.

Uninformed individuals often cite money as the reason that the young solicitors leave. Statistics prove this to be untrue. When I speak with an associate, rarely do they say they are leaving because of money. The only exception is when there is a gender equity pay gap.

I listened to Nora.   She echoed what I had heard hundreds of times. “I wanted to be part of the team and build my career with my firm. But I don’t want to be criticised all of the time. I want to be acknowledged, maybe even receive appreciation for my hard work and long hours.”

I encourage law firms to find out the real reason that the associate wants to leave. Many times it is just communication barriers. Many times these problems are quickly resolved, and the investment (trainee or solicitor) can be retained by the firm.

Of course, there are occasions a solicitor or trainee wants to leave. In these cases keep your eye out for these three signs.

Top 3 Associate Lawyer Retention Warning Signs for Law Firms to Look Out

No. 1 Loss of Engagement

The most noticeable sign will be that they no longer engage with supervisors or fellow employees. They are quiet and have little to say to anyone or always whispering to a close colleague.

No. 2. Drop in Productivity

An associate who is about to leave usually becomes slack.  Their work ethic will slip. Because of being distracted they will be less productive. Phone calls and longer lunches will indicate you are possibly losing your employee.

No. 3. Changes in Schedule

An associate who is about to leave suddenly needs more time off. They have interviews, and they need to do this during the day. Also, they will want to make sure to use all of their vacation and sick time.

Retention Works – How Law Firms Can Stop Money Hemorrhaging

Law firms and solicitors can fight against attrition to stop the money from hemorrhaging out of the back door.  This loss of profits occurs in the UK, US and law firms all over the world. Billions of pounds are lost each year.

This loss of profits is interesting because many of these attorneys can be retained through improved engagement and productivity.

Solutions include:

  1. Hiring an outside mediator/consultant
  2. Informal training
  3. Improved communication
  4. Working caseloads using the team or pod approach
  5. Ongoing mentoring programmes
  6. Group community service teams

There is no reason to allow an associate to leave only to repeat the same cycle with a newly hired lawyer.

Editor’s note – To get the right candidate, consider using a screening process like the ones on See also our new guide to some of the Top Legal Recruitment Companies in the UK who may be able to help you with hiring a new lawyer or for legal career tips.

Nora & Oliver – What Happened Next

I encouraged the firm to retain Nora. She was able to find a group that was more inclusive, and that fit her skill more closely.

Oliver was able to increase the percentage of retention among associates by using cost-effective methods to increase engagement and loyalty to the firm.

Pamela DeNeuve is a  Law Firm Strategist who helps retain & engage associates to increase law firm profits. Pamela began working with attorneys in 1992.  For six years she was a recruiter for partners with portable business.  She takes these profound experiences and helps law firms keep their most valuable asset, human capital.

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