Retention of Legal Professionals is Critical in Improving Economy

As business conditions improve and the demand for legal professionals with specialized expertise  increases, law firms and legal departments are inevitably paying more attention to employee retention matters. And for good reason.

Nearly one-third of the lawyers we polled in a recent survey said they’re concerned about losing employees to other job opportunities in the coming months. Losing key talent doesn’t just affect your team’s productivity; it also impacts morale, causing other staff members to wonder if the grass really is greener outside your organization.

So what can you do to retain your best people as their options expand? Consider the following practical, but meaningful, actions.

Four Effective Retention Strategies

  1. Make sure salaries measure up. When asked to rank the value of various retention incentives in a recent Robert Half Legal survey, lawyers named “increased compensation or bonuses” as the greatest reason to remain with an employer. Although compensation isn’t the only draw, its top ranking may signal that professionals are eager to see gains in this area after enduring years of recession-era legal salaries.

    Be sure to stay up-to-date on salary trends for legal jobs. Aim to pay a little more than your closest competitors or offer other incentives, such as an attractive bonus structure. A little extra compensation can pay off with more satisfied employees and less turnover in the long run. Consult Robert Half Legal's Salary Guide, published annually, for an easy-to-use resource regarding legal compensation trends.

  2. Keep them growing. “Challenging work or variety of assignments” was cited as the second most effective retention incentive by one in five lawyers in our survey. With this in mind, make it a point to regularly meet with top performers to discuss the work they’re doing. Is it consistent with their goals? Do they regard their responsibilities as interesting and challenging? What adjustments would they make if they had a chance? Are there new skills they’d like to acquire? Be attuned to what you learn, responding as necessary to ensure assignments and developmental opportunities remain both personally and professionally enriching.

    Also, when filling a vacant position, look first to existing staff. Promoting from within creates additional advancement opportunities for others. It can also boost morale and retention, as other employees see this practice as potentially benefitting them as well.

  3. Be flexible. Legal professionals also consider flexible work arrangements as a powerful retention incentive, as noted by 13 percent of our survey respondents. Members of the Millennial Generation, in particular, value having the freedom to work outside of traditional hours and office boundaries. Law firms are becoming more receptive to this trend; and as more legal clients embrace a flexible work approach, law firms realize that they risk losing not just legal talent, but possibly clients as well if they don’t demonstrate a willingness to incorporate flexible working models within their organizations.

  4. Invest in your people. Don’t overlook the power of investing in your people as a retention strategy. Allowing legal professionals to build expertise in new practice areas and receive reimbursement for continuing legal education (CLE) are enticing incentives to stay with an employer. Such perks tell employees that you’re committed to their professional advancement. And rather than worry about the risk of investing in employees who might eventually leave, consider a worse scenario: What if you don’t invest in them and they stay but never reach their potential?

As much as legal organizations want to retain top performers, some strategies are not particularly effective, such as making a counteroffer to a departing staff member. With competition increasing for in-demand specialized legal talent, lawyers surveyed recently by our company said they’re more likely today than a year ago to extend a counteroffer to a valued employee who has given notice. However, counteroffers are rarely good for retention in the long run – they serve only as a temporary fix, not a solution that will likely retain the person over time; and counteroffers can lead other team members to question their own compensation.