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How to Encourage Associates to Become the Partners of Tomorrow

How can you persuade your staff to progress within the firm?

Recruiting the right people

The high cost of taking on a trainee solicitor (estimated to be around £175,000 when grants, salary, graduate recruitment, marketing and partner time are all taken into account) means that you should spend some time to ensure that you are recruiting lawyers who will want to stay on in your firm after their training is complete, going on to become associates and eventually partners. Having your fee earners jump ship when they have got to a certain stage of their career is inevitable to a certain degree, but you want to try to minimise that possibility as far as possible, both so that you recoup the initial investment and retain the best talent to help drive your business forward.

Associates who go elsewhere

Promotion to associate solicitor is an important step in the progression of any legal career. Although it often provides an indication that partnership is on the cards and should engender a sense of mutual trust and loyalty, it is sometimes used tactically both by employers and employees. Some firms may decide to promote staff in difficult economic times instead of giving them substantial pay increases. Meanwhile, many newly promoted associates who are unhappy at their firm - or fee0l that better opportunities lie elsewhere - will use the kudos of their new job title as a way of finding a more attractive position with a competitor. This isn’t always about money; sometimes another firm can entice associates with the prospect of more interesting work, better office space or more freedom in the form of flexible working.

Avoid losing clients

Although you can insert restrictive covenant clauses into the employment contracts of your fee earners, in practice these are very difficult to enforce. Even if departing lawyers don’t actively take clients with them - and even if they don’t even tell clients where they are going - it’s possible for clients to do a quick internet search to find out which firm they’ve joined. So if an associate, who has spent several years building up a client base at your firm decides to move to a competitor, it’s likely that at least a few clients will move with them. When you consider that the price tag of replacing an associate solicitor is placed conservatively at £125,000 (not including intangibles such as loss of client knowledge and legal expertise) and that you could also lose clients, the importance of retaining associates and encouraging them to work towards partnership becomes even more evident.

How do you persuade associates to stay?

Although money is often a determining factor for many lawyers when deciding whether to stay with a firm, it’s certainly not the only consideration and often not even the most important one. Interesting and engaging work is crucial for many lawyers, although this is often a subjective issue; what one person enjoys may be mind-numbingly boring for someone else. Although this may be less of a consideration for trainees, as they are still finding out which area of law suits them best, by the time someone becomes an associate they normally have a pretty good idea of what type of work they want to do. So then it’s basically a matter of matching associates with the right sort of work.

Money and nature of work aside, the working environment and the method of working is extremely important for most associates. Employees are less willing to be constrained by traditional working hours and office environments. The growth of the internet over the last 20 years and the increasing array of mobile online devices - including laptops, tablets and smartphones - has led to an increasing demand for flexible and remote working practices. Rising office rents have also contributed to this cultural shift and it seems that, unless you can afford to create an office environment which is a more desirable place to work than homes or coffee bars, it may be better to let your associates work from wherever they choose.

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