In my work as a business development coach and trainer, many of my experienced attorney clients have been complaining to me that they are struggling to incorporate business development activities into an already active practice inundated with client demands. Top that with record high numbers of associates quitting (more than one in four in 2021 according to the ABA Journal), and investing in genuine and meaningful relationships with the associates in your firm has never been more important.
Good associates help you provide your clients with high-quality work, allow you to scale your practice, and can alleviate you from performing mundane tasks, thus providing you with newly found time to be intentional and proactive about the kind of work you want more of. A focus on associate development can be directly related to your future success as a partner. And with both the shift to remote and hybrid work arrangements and the cultural changes in expectations around work among younger generations, there are new challenges and considerations attorneys need to think about while working with junior colleagues.
To create a climate of inclusion that generates loyalty from your associates, expands your book of business, and ultimately improves your firm, consider these steps:
- Meet with associates regularly to connect on non-client/matter related topics. Find out what their goals are. Are they interested in partnership? What kind of work is most interesting to them? What kind of clients are they hoping to work with? A real estate partner we work with blocks out breakfast on the first Friday of every month to meet in person with one of the associates in his department. A partner at a boutique intellectual property firm has a regular reminder in her calendar to schedule a quarterly Zoom “coffee meeting” with each of her associates.
- Whenever possible, provide associates with opportunities on matters that are in line with their individual goals. Do your best to help associates connect the dots between the matter and their career objectives.
- Include the associate working on your matter(s) in as much of the process as you can: client strategy meetings, calls and emails. Invest extra time providing associates with your insights and a window into your thinking and problem solving.
- Encourage your associate to focus on their professional reputation. Consider collaborating with an associate on a thought leadership piece in line with their ideal career trajectory. An entertainment law partner client recently worked with an associate interested in NFTs on an article about the inclusion of NFTs in talent contracts, ultimately raising the associate’s visibility and credibility in the space along with the partner’s.