5 Ways to Retain Legal Professionals (P.S. - Counteroffers Don't Work)

Because the market for experienced legal staff with in-demand skills continues to grow, retaining top talent has never been more difficult -- or important. As a result, law firms and legal departments are making more counteroffers to valued employees who give notice: Twenty-eight percent of lawyers polled in a recent Robert Half Legal survey said they were more willing now than a year ago to extend a counteroffer.

When star employees inform employers of their intention to leave, the knee-jerk reaction is to woo them back with higher salaries and better perks. However, making a counteroffer can often backfire -- and in fact, is not a sound retention strategy. Here are two primary reasons you should accept their resignation letter:

Why counteroffers can be counterproductive

  • Counteroffers can be a short-term solution. Consider this scenario: A top lawyer accepts your counteroffer. But inadequate financial compensation wasn’t the only reason -- or was just one of several reasons -- that led her to seek another law job. Soon enough, she realizes that a higher salary and better benefits didn’t solve conflicts with management or colleagues, a workplace culture she dislikes and/or a desire to take her career in another direction; so once again, she starts looking for another law position.

  • Counteroffers may start a chain reaction. If you increase one professional’s salary, it’s likely that word will get out, resulting in others who may expect the same treatment. Are you in a position to hand out unscheduled raises to all who complain? In addition, if employees at the same level suddenly have dramatically different compensation packages, you’re sending the message that some team members are more valuable than others. And if employees start comparing notes and bearing grudges, interpersonal relationships within the firm can disintegrate.

Check in regularly and encourage employees to come to you with any issues. Good communication and access to management will help stave off problems and improve retention efforts.

Focus on prevention, retention and succession

If the resignation caught you off guard, let it serve as a lesson to meet regularly with your staff, especially top performers you want to keep happy. Don’t wait for annual reviews to talk about job satisfaction and career goals. Instead, check in regularly and encourage employees to come to you with any issues. Good communication and access to management will help stave off problems and improve retention rates.

Also, look inward to determine whether you need to make any internal changes. Exit interviews can be valuable eye-openers, so be sure that HR conducts them -- or you do. More than three-fourths of executives polled for a survey by our company said they “always” or “somewhat frequently” act on the information gathered from departing employees.

Here are five ways to strengthen your retention activities, invest in your staff and stop losing top talent:

  1. Offer career development, leadership and mentorship opportunities to all legal staff.

  2. Make sure everyone has a good share of meaningful projects.

  3. Drive motivation by recognizing performance and empowering your employees with good leadership practices.

  4. See what you can do to reduce the usual law job stress factors, such as long hours and the pressures of billable hours. According to our legal research, some top retention incentives are flexible work hours and telecommuting options.

  5. Periodically evaluate your organization’s compensation package to ensure you stay competitive. The Robert Half Legal Salary Guide has the latest on legal job salaries and trends.

Turn turnovers into opportunities

Don’t panic when you’re left short-staffed after an employee leaves. Use the opportunity to evaluate your legal team and make it the best it can be. Perhaps your firm or company plans to expand to another market or wants to add an in-demand specialty like health, real estate, intellectual property, or environmental law. Give yourself time to make the decision by contracting with a legal placement agency or legal staffing group to fill your law job temporarily rather than immediately back-filling the vacant position with a full-time hire. Also, let the resignation serve as a wake-up call to put a succession plan in place or refresh your current plan.

Though they’re tempting, counteroffers rarely pay off. In the majority of cases, it’s better to watch that employee go with your best wishes and focus retention efforts on your remaining staff.