The American Bar Association’s online journal, Law Practice Today, recently published “Why Lawyers Leave Law Firms and What Firms Can Do About It,” co-authored by Kate Mangan of Donocle and Montage’s co-founders/owners, Erin Giglia and Laurie Rowen. This article analyzes all of the survey response data, from both men and women, and includes an in-depth discussion about retention issues and reasons behind why associates leave law firms. Please see the excerpt below, or click here to read the full article.
Why Lawyers Leave Law Firms and What Firms Can Do About It (ABA’s Law Practice Today)
Every practicing lawyer knows at least one: a brilliant, hard-working, former law firm associate. Maybe she left to spend more time with family, or maybe she wanted to try a smaller “lifestyle” firm to reduce her hours, or maybe the firm culture made it impossible to stay. Whatever the reason, her academic and professional credentials are excellent, and the firm lost her talent. What could the firm have done differently to keep her from leaving?
Associate retention is a top priority for many law firms, and firms have taken numerous steps and have implemented programs in an effort to improve retention. Law firms have offered reduced-hour schedules and other alternative work arrangements, built mentorship programs, started steering committees and hired consultants to try and find answers, but associates continue to leave law firms as much as ever.
What can traditional law firms do to retain attorneys? What policies or changes would convince attorneys to stick with law firms? To begin answering these questions, we surveyed nearly 400 (58 men, 321 women) attorneys who have left at least one legal employer. We were interested in why they left their employers and what, if anything, their employers could have done to retain them. We also wondered whether people left the law altogether, so we asked about what kind of work they are doing now.
The results suggest that while many lawyers believe that the traditional law firm model may be broken, it is not without hope. Those surveyed overwhelmingly believe that employers can make shifts and adjustments that would be positive for lawyers. Here are highlights of what we learned.
The Time Factor and the Part-Time Policy Dilemma
More than any other reason, respondents left their employers because of intense time demands. Thirty-four percent said that the primary reason they left was related to the time demands of the job. One respondent observed, “I found it very difficult to meet billable hour requirements and spend quality time with my family. The stress of trying to ‘balance’ those was too difficult—particularly when I felt the need to work even without looming deadlines.” Several attorneys disliked being “on call 24/7.” One respondent summarized,
“Any job that requires that many hours could never have been a life-long commitment for me. It’s very clear to me now, but wasn’t then. I was missing out on a lot of life to make my billable hours requirement. To retain me, the firm would have had to totally rethink its business model and do away with a culture of billable hours bravado, in which people took a sick sense of pride in the incredible amount of time (2400+ hours/year) they devoted to the job and sacrificed from their own lives.”
Another respondent stated, “The primary thing would have been to try to eliminate the expectation that lawyers should be working multiple all nighters a year.”
To address the time pressures, many employers have implemented reduced-hour policies, but with mixed success. Over a third (33.44%) of respondents who worked in organizations that offered part-time policies did not even attempt to work part-time, because they did not believe the program would work. They cited concerns that their hours would rise above the agreed upon threshold, that they would lose opportunities, and that too much stigma is associated with going part-time…..Read more here.
See also, “Survey Results: Why Are Women Really Leaving Firms?” published in the OC Lawyer Magazine in March 2016, analyzing the female responses to the survey.