For the past 20 years in the legal recruiting business, my firm, the Advocates, has focused on helping our clients land key lateral attorneys and improve retention through several unique processes designed to match candidates’ personalities to the right law firm and corporate cultures for them.
For us, the matching of people and culture is the point.
A client recently asked me why our firm is so focused on candidates’ feelings. The answer is because understanding people’s feelings—their “why” around work issues—matters in trying to improve employee satisfaction, engagement and retention. It is a core issue of viewing people as human beings first, and it starts during the interview process, where we help candidates sort through their best options.
Focusing on people in this way can be particularly difficult for our law firm clients, as their product is people’s time and expertise as measured in billable hours.
Low satisfaction and high attrition
These issues affect the entire workforce across all industries: Recent media coverage around “quiet quitting” (which I define as people still in their jobs but who are unengaged) and the record rate of law firm attrition are related issues that affect the entire workforce across all industries. Law firms and corporations, including the Advocates, have struggled with what to do. Over the past year, many of us have added pay, benefits and flextime work schedules with hopes of improving our employees’ quality of life.
However, it is not just the seemingly never-ending cascade of real-world stressors (e.g., war, pandemic, inflation and civil unrest) or what was previously seen as work-related issues (lack of equitable pay, flexibility or benefits) that are behind much of employees’ dissatisfaction and resulting turnover.
Instead, when talking to lawyers about their careers, we often hear stories that point to the same culprit: Employees don’t feel valued as people. An associate responding to ALM’s Midlevel Associate Survey said, “The messaging me and my fellow associates receive is that the partners don’t particularly like us.” Another quote from the same survey echoed a common sentiment: “Everyone is scared to take a moment to be a person at work, because you are being judged for that moment.”
Many times, lawyers—especially associates—feel like nothing more than cogs to produce legal work in an industrialized legal work production scheme rather than feeling like a professional or a full person. The recent layoffs at a few major Am Law 50 firms got a lot of press and echo the point. Six months ago, these firms were paying six-figure signing bonuses; now, at the first signs of a work slowdown, they are actively laying off those associates. It’s hard to feel like more than a number.
When people’s traits match work culture, they thrive and stay longer. But it turns out that there is more to it.