For no matter what we achieve, if we don’t spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life. But if we spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect — people we really enjoy being on the bus with and who will never disappoint us — then we will almost certainly have a great life, no matter where the bus goes. The people we interviewed from the good-to-great companies clearly loved what they did, largely because they loved who they did it with. Jim Collins
Not So Fast
Part 1 of this post reviewed the extraordinary attrition in law firms compared to well-run companies in almost any other business sector. We looked at what some suggest are the drivers for this problem. In this post I want to suggest a different perspective for your consideration.
A Closer Look at Partner and Associate Attrition
I hear many law firm leaders talk as if they have come to terms with extraordinary attrition as a “fact of life.” The bottom-line cost, as well as the drain on productivity and the psyche of the firm are accepted as part of doing business.
But in a marketplace that has seen more than 10,000 partner moves in 5 years and an even greater number of displaced associates, are we really willing to accept this as a function of working in the legal industry? We certainly should not be satisfied to simply chalk it up to being a price of running a law firm.
Something is fundamentally wrong and I’d like to suggest something else is at play…..
The churn is the predictable and natural byproduct of a conflict between the direction and goals of a firm on one hand, and the career aspirations of an individual lawyer on the other.
Some may suggest that the right set of handcuffs would slow the rate of movement, and minimize its cost, but does any firm really want to build barriers that bind dissatisfied lawyers? This approach doesn’t work with trade tariffs, and it won’t promote the creation of successful, stable law firms.
A more practical approach begins with management acknowledging and understanding just how critical career aspirations are when it comes to determining an individual lawyer’s long-term fit in a partnership.
It is this simple: attentiveness to the things the majority of your lawyers value most will breed stability and provide a solid foundation for growth. A recruiting process – associate and lateral – that begins with a clear understanding of the firm’s common values and shared aspirations is one of the basic building blocks of stability. Firms that begin here are on the road to less waste and greater retention.
That said, in any enterprise there will be individuals whose professional desires are in conflict with the organization. Smart leaders in healthy organizations strive to identify a mismatch, and facilitate an orderly transition that fosters a collegial relationship and potential referral source.
How about this for a point of discussion: is it possible for today’s law firm to grow an organization around common values and shared aspirations? And will this speak to the incredible rate of partner movement, and reverse the churn game?
I’d appreciate hearing your reply.