“Underappreciated” associates want to leave law firms

Runyon: Upping pay alone is not the answer

“Feeling underappreciated” is the most common reason why associates want to leave their law firms, a study has found.

The research also revealed that female associates were noticeably more likely to say they would switch jobs in the next two years than their male colleagues.

Asked what features of their current firm they liked the most, associates cited flexible working practices, colleagues and the culture or environment.

Thomson Reuters extracted the figures for over 100 UK associates, mainly at mid-sized and large firms, from its international associate pulse survey.

Almost half (48%) of them cited feeling underappreciated as a factor that made them consider moving. This was followed by their law firm’s compensation system (45%), lack of progression (38%) and their current/latest compensation arrangements (35%).

After that came “lack of general regard for your wellbeing” (25%), unhappiness with leadership and lack of mentorship (both on 20%).

The remaining factors were lack of support from managers, unhappiness with strategy and lack of flexibility over where lawyers worked.

When it came to reasons which would persuade associates to stay, by far the most commonly mentioned was higher compensation (58%), followed by career path alternatives to partnership and increased recruitment to reduce individual workloads, both on 30%.

These were followed by greater flexibility in work times and allocations, more structured feedback and development support from managers, and increased coaching or mentoring.

Male associates gave 16% higher totals for their billable hours in the past year than female associates – an average of 1,514 hours, compared to 1,301.

However, female associates were noticeably keener to leave. A significant minority (15%) said they were “highly likely” to feel that they would move from their current job in the next two years. No men said this.

A further 10% of female associates said they were “somewhat likely” to feel that way. This compared with the 20% of men who said they were “somewhat likely”.

On features of their current firm that they liked most, the most popular answer was the flexible work practices (30%), followed by people/colleagues (25%), culture/environment (22%) and quality of work (21%).

Less popular were work/life balance, supportiveness, friendliness, the “quality of my team” and clients.

Natalie Runyon, director of ESG content and advisory services at Thomson Reuters, commented: “How to reduce the turnover of lawyers has been one of the key challenges for law firms in the last few years. Management within law firms will be concerned to see that such a high proportion of associates still don’t feel appreciated in the workplace.

“Saying thank you more often and partners checking in to see how learning and career development is going are two ways to ensure junior lawyers feel their contributions are valued by their firm. This could be an important factor as to whether or not they choose to remain with that firm.”

She suggested that the higher salaries seen in the last couple of years may not be enough on their own.

“Firms should also give consideration not just to the overall pay but other issues such as bonuses and how they are awarded, how frequently compensation is reviewed and whether the non-pay benefits being offered to associates are relevant and attractive.”

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