Beyond good pay, interesting work, and reasonable hours, what does it take to keep associates happy? According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), approximately 43% of associates will change jobs within their first three years of practice. Many of those who leave are looking for a place where they believe they can make a successful and secure career for themselves, and can play a part in shaping their future and that of the firm of which they are a part.
Associates want to feel like a valued part of an organization. They want work assigned on a timely basis whenever possible. Except in unavoidable circumstances, they should not get assignments at the last minute, at the end of the day, or on a Friday or holiday eve with impending deadlines. And, if possible, work should be assigned on a relatively even basis rather than a number of assignments all at once, and then periods with no work at all. Moreover, once the work has been completed, associates want partners to review it within a reasonable period of time, and with constructive criticism (or even praise, when earned). Associates want to know that the work they do is important, and seek validation that they are doing their work well. An occasional “thank you” goes a long way.
Associates want clear feedback, early on and regularly, in order to nip any potential problems in the bud. They want to know honestly, and several years ahead of their partnership eligibility, what their realistic chances are for making partner, and if there are any steps they can take to increase the likelihood of getting the nod. If they are not on partnership track, associates want to know what their options are, and whether there will continue to be an appropriate place for them at the firm in the short and long term. They want to know where their careers are going.
Associates also want training and support in client development and rainmaking skills. In this bottom-line oriented legal marketplace, associates know that bringing in clients equates with power and security in the firm. They want formal business development training, significant client contact, case or deal responsibility, and mentoring in this area. It is important that a firm be open to the smaller types of clients and matters that an associate may be able to generate at the outset, and must be flexible regarding billing rates for these clients. Furthermore, associates want their firms to back them up with realistic client development budgets.
Associates realize that their primary function is to work and not to govern, but they also want to play a role in shaping the future of their firms. They want involvement in the firm’s business development and planning. They want representation on the firm’s important administrative and governing committees. Some law firms have instituted formal review of partners’ performance by associates, and have associates participate on committees that have the authority to set compensation. These measures have been favorably received. Associates also wish to participate in the hiring, training, and mentoring of more junior associates. And, when the firm is doing well, they want to be rewarded with extra bonuses so they feel that they are sharing in the profits they have helped to create. Regardless of the firm’s fortunes, a little fun and shared laughter can lighten the atmosphere and make everyone feel part of a team.
In short, in addition to the tangibles-money, interesting work, and reasonable hours–associates want to feel appreciated, supported, and in control of, or at least informed about, their career options.