5 Reasons Associates Leave Law Firms

5 Reasons Associates Leave Law Firms

The landscape of the legal industry changed dramatically during the past several years, and it’s changed for a number of reasons.

One of those reasons was the most recent recession, which had a profound impact on the world views of big law, law firm clients, and law firm partners and associates.  Another reason was the new generation of workers, the Millennials, who hold a different perspective about the global economy and the legal industry, regardless of prevailing economic conditions.

Specifically, with law firms, here’s how it usually happened in the “old days”:

Law firm hiring partners made a concerted effort to hire the best associates they could.  They expected that those associates would one day want to be a partner at the firm.  That was an accurate expectation, mainly because the associates expected exactly the same thing.  Both the law firm and the associates held the same expectations, and that was key to their mutual, long-term success.

However, the “old days” are just that—in the past.  These days, it can NOT be assumed that associates will stay with law firms for the duration of their careers, pluckily plodding along until they make partner.

With that in mind, below are five main reasons why associates leave law firms:

#1—The reality of the job doesn’t meet their expectations.

If an associate was told certain things about the position prior to being hired (schedule flexibility, training programs, assignments, etc.), and then those things did not come to fruition once he or she was hired, the associate won’t be happy.  That unhappiness will translate into a desire to seek new opportunities, ones that will meet their expectations.

#2—They don’t believe the firm is committed to their future.

Associates are seeking upward mobility.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean just more work and more responsibility.  They want to grow their careers, and they want to feel as though the firm is interested in helping them to achieve that growth . . . regardless of whether or not they become a partner.  If an associate does not believe that the firm or practice group is committed to his or her professional growth, that associate will seek opportunities with a law firm which will exhibit that commitment.

#3—They’re a poor cultural match.

This could manifest itself in a number of different ways.  An associate might not embrace the customs and traditions of the firm, or he or she might not interact well with the other employees, or he or she might even clash directly with the partners over philosophy or other issues.  If the associate feels like an outsider, he or she will be uncomfortable with the firm culture, and, as a result, will be a prime candidate for departure.

#4—There’s low morale at the firm.

When was the last time you evaluated your firm’s morale?  When you did, how did you evaluate it?  Firms typically rate their morale higher than it actually is.  Failure to first measure morale and then improve it can be an open invitation for associates to leave.

#5—They have more options in the marketplace.

More options mean more opportunities, and if an associate is unhappy for any one (or more) of the reasons presented above, they’ll explore those opportunities.

Do any of these five conditions exist at your firm, in one way or another?  What kind of turnover have you been experiencing during the past few years?

Knowing the specific reasons why associates are leaving is the first step toward making sure that you retain them . . . especially the superstars who could make a real difference.

Jacqueline Hill, Esq.

This post was written by .

Jacqueline Hill is a partner at Lexacount Search, where she places top senior-level and other legal talent with law firms and corporate legal departments across the United States. She has been writing about careers, lawyers, attorney professional development, and the legal industry for more than a decade. She can be reached at jacqueline.hill@lexacount.com or 215-740-0104, extension 101.

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