Law firm leaders believe associates are “less loyal”

Work life balance

Work-life balance: Major priority for associates

Seven out of 10 law firm leaders believe associates are “less loyal than previous generations”, a report has found.

Researchers also said only a quarter of associates aimed to become a partner at their law firm within the next five years.

Half of law firm leaders said they had noticed a decline in the number of associates aspiring to be partner, rising to 63% for those running large firms.

The top reasons given by the leaders for the lack of interest in becoming a partner related to the search for better work-life balance (71%), the financial risks involved (42%) and “avoiding stress” (39%).

Meanwhile, leaders believed increased job mobility was the main factor driving the lack of loyalty, followed by higher compensation packages elsewhere or a better work-life balance.

Researchers from LexisNexis Legal & Professional surveyed 588 law firm leaders and associates in January this year for the report Disloyal lawyers: has the partnership model lost its lustre?

The proportion of partners believing that associates were less loyal increased from 72% to 81% for large and medium-sized law firms.

However, associates expressed considerable loyalty to their firm, with more than half (58%) saying they planned to be there in five years’ time. A quarter said they hoped to be a partner, and a further quarter hoped to be promoted, while 7% aimed to stay in the same position.

Only a small minority (12%) of associates said they wanted to leave private practice. The most popular option was going in-house, followed by leaving the law, teaching law or working for an alternative legal services provider.

Stuart Greenhill, senior director of segment strategy at LexisNexis, said: “The current generation of workers are disruptors, not conformers.

“If they see something they don’t like, they’ll push back. To meet growth goals and retain a feasible talent pipeline, law firms will need to find a middle-ground.

“They cannot rely on what has worked well in the past, especially with the AI [artificial intelligence] revolution well on its way.”

According to associates, the top change that would encourage them to stay at their current firms, by a long way, was a higher salary (70%). Half as many cited a better work-life balance or improved career development at their firm.

Other changes associates wanted to see were more interesting client work, “cutting-edge technology” and more support staff.

On pay, 16% of law firms said they had increased pay for associates above the rate of inflation and 21% that they had increased it to match inflation.

Meanwhile, half of law firms had not increased billable hour targets in the year; only 12% had.

However, attracting and retaining talent featured in third place in the top challenges facing law firms over the next 12 months.

These were headed by increasing costs (61%), followed by cybersecurity (43%) and only then talent retention (42%). However, for large firms the top challenge was talent, while for small firms it was the need to attract and retain clients.

Mr Greenhill added: “It’s interesting that, at a time of arguably the biggest technological transformations in history, one of the biggest threats to firms is their people.

“As the legal profession trades in human capital, firms will also need to adapt, evolve and, in some cases, make compromises to attract the best talent.

“In return, these employees will find ways to bring in new revenue streams, meet the changing needs of clients, and drive your firm’s digital transformation forward.”

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