Law firm recruiting and retention efforts benefit from treating your former attorneys like valued alumni rather than disloyal deserters. Gone are the days when lawyers joined the firm directly from law school and left only when they retired or were pushed out if they failed to make partner. Today, even (or especially) the best lawyers may go in-house, join another firm, or leave law altogether. Statistics show that Millennials change jobs every few years and, while more-experienced lawyers tend to stay longer, they often transition as well—including those at the partner level.
Turnover is a reality in the legal marketplace but, handled well, your former lawyers present continuing opportunities to help your firm grow. The first law firm alumni programs were initiated approximately 20 years ago to maintain cordial relationships among former colleagues. By now, nearly 70 percent of AmLaw 100 firms have followed suit, with more programs in development.
While it seems counter-intuitive, a strong alumni program can help you identify, land, and keep valued lawyers—for a longer time, if not forever. The recruiting and retention advantages of happy former lawyers include:
- Culture of community. Building a value-added alumni program communicates to potential, current, and former firm lawyers that, once they’ve spent time with the firm, they’re always a valued part of the family.
- Brand building and goodwill. The legal marketplace is insular, so maintaining your firm’s good reputation is paramount when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. Lawyers listen to what their friends and colleagues say about their experiences with firms where they spent part of their careers. A successful alumni program increases the chances your former lawyers will say positive things about your firm.
- Rainmaking. Savvy candidates, especially at more senior levels of experience, seek to join law firms where they can grow their business. Your current partners and “up and comers” are looking for the same potential. Part of your platform for future rainmaking is the firm’s business development network. An effective alumni program which keeps your firm in touch with its former lawyers adds to the firm’s business development connections, particularly if alumni moved in-house to corporations or to other firms that might serve as sources of referral business.
- Strategic Partnerships. Even if alumni don’t provide a new client lead, they can add to the firm’s platform for retaining and attracting top talent by identifying opportunities to work together on a client matter or to form alliances based on complementary services and practice areas.
- Market intelligence. An extensive alumni base provides a broader source of insider knowledge about the legal marketplace such as pay scales, business trends, and what the competition is doing. The more a firm is up to date on the market, the better it can provide its current and potential lawyers with the best career opportunities.
- Feedback. Keeping lines of communication open via the alumni program reaps valuable information. Based on their own experiences, former lawyers may provide constructive feedback to help your firm improve client services, internal management and procedures, and workplace satisfaction. A firm that is constantly improving has a greater likelihood of recruiting and keeping top lawyers.
- Long term commitment. Potential lateral or new hires may see the long-term advantage to joining a firm that affirmatively maintains mutually beneficial relationships with its lawyers over the course of their careers. Even more attractive is one that assists in eventually placing some of its lawyers in their next positions, including with its clients as in-house counsel. Many strong associates don’t see law firm partnership as the goal, but can offer value to your firm for several years on their paths to other career destinations. A firm which provides assistance to its transitioning attorneys will attract more candidates, get the most out of them during their tenure, and may retain them longer or for the remainder of their legal careers after all.
- Candidate sources. Your former lawyers know what it takes to fit in and succeed at your firm, both the hard and soft skills, and can refer appropriate friends and colleagues when alerted to open positions. Having the inside scoop, happy alumni can help you sell your firm’s story to the potential lateral.
- Rebound hiring. If treated as valued members of the firm family, former lawyers may choose to return. Studies show it costs about half as much to rehire an ex-employee as it does to add a new candidate. They are known quantities in terms of fit and training, thus require less time and effort for recruitment and integration. Moreover, rehires are significantly more productive immediately because they can hit the ground running. They are more likely to stay, as well, since they know what they are getting into, and have made the informed decision that it is the best place for them to spend their careers.
- Smoother exits. Strong alumni programs that offer instant access to a network of lawyers and potential job leads as well as educational and coaching opportunities can ease some pain in the event of lay-offs. Moreover, even with voluntary transitions, your current lawyers will be impressed and reassured by the firm’s positive management of departures.
Kirkland & Ellis LLP devised creative ways to use its alumni program to enhance recruitment and retention. The alumni page on its website states that the firm considers its past and present lawyers “colleagues for life” and offers to “continue to invest in your career” through “life-long career support”. Such statements send a powerful message not only to its alumni, but also to its current lawyers. Specific programs include:
- CareerLink. A service for Kirkland’s alumni and current lawyers who are considering a transition out of the firm, offering confidential career coaching, networking assistance, job postings, and a guide to online job searches.
- In-House Insider. A workshop series for current and former Kirkland lawyers who either are considering a corporate in-house job or who want to build their client roster and stay on the partnership track. The pilot program included 32 lawyers from around the country, including five women looking to re-enter the workforce. Over three full Saturdays from December 2016 through March 2017, participants heard from Kirkland lawyers who made successful transitions.
In addition to creating loyal alumni, the Kirkland firm found that these programs resulted in an uptick in retention because its lawyers felt the firm was doing more to assist them in their careers on a day-to-day basis. Other law firms, of any size, also can devise creative programs appropriate to their situations to reap the recruitment and retention benefits of treating its former lawyers like valued alumni rather than disloyal deserters.