It Shouldn’t Suck to be an Associate at a Law Firm

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Law firms inexplicably eat their young.

Attrition of law firm associates has always been a blight on the profession. This attrition is financially painful as associates leave BigLaw in droves during their third or fourth years, at precisely the point when these associates become significant profit centers at the law firm. Attrition at these levels often reach the 60 – 80% level. The financial pain to law firms is compounded by the fact that law firms have by that point spent upwards of $500,000 to recruit and train each associate. In the current market, with clients by and large refusing to pay for the training of young associates, the financial burden to law firms caused by this attrition is further exacerbated.

But this financial drain is all too often self inflicted by law firms. Incivility visited on young associates in the form of arbitrary deadlines, sleep deprivation prompted by minimum hourly billing requirements as well as bonuses predicated upon hours billed is, well, virtually a form of torture. The result is a strong likelihood of malpractice and ultimately, associates clambering for the escape hatches.

Retention of associates and avoidance of expensive attrition can be achieved with having law firms take a more humane approach in dealing with associates. Substantively productive mentoring programs, keeping associates informed about matters affecting the firm and associates’ careers as well as minding and fostering a reasonable work/life balance enhances associates’ productivity. Most significantly, improving the quality of associates’ working lives costs virtually nothing in hard dollars, yet adds immeasurably to a law firm’s bottom line.

The answer is assuredly not throwing money at associates, either in the form of large salaries or year end or spring bonuses. The real answer is to create an environment in which associates don’t go home daily thinking “take this job and shove it. “

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Jerome Kowalski
Kowalski & Associates

Jerry Kowalski is the founder of Kowalski & Associates, which provides law firm management... View Profile »


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