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Strategic Staffing Amidst Associate Attrition

January 23, 2024

Legal Talent Outsourcing

Adapting to Legal Industry Shifts: Strategic Staffing Amidst Associate Attrition

A recent study about the state of hiring and retention in the legal industry reveals an unsettling trend: one in four Big Law associates plans to depart their current position within the coming year. This potential exodus underscores the fact that legal careers are evolving, and what legal professionals—especially those from younger generations—want from their careers is evolving too. The study makes clear that associates are not merely seeking new job opportunities; they are in pursuit of roles that resonate more with their aspirations, work-life balance, and professional growth expectations. 

Meanwhile, law firms are left navigating the repercussions of these potential departures, which threaten to disrupt service continuity. This landscape of change signals an opportunity for innovative, mutually beneficial solutions—ones that address associates' career concerns and assist law firms in efficiently bridging their talent gaps.
 

The Underlying Issues Revealed by the Study

Let’s begin by unpacking some of the key findings of the study, before addressing possible solutions to address the challenges law firms face in staffing in today’s volatile marketplace for talent. First, the study reveals that there is a lack of personalized retention efforts. Individual associates feel undervalued, with three out of five respondents feeling that their firms aren’t actively trying to retain them. Without personalization, associates are left feeling like just another cog in the machine, leading to a workforce that's disengaged. Moreover, associates express a desire for elusive work-life balance. They crave a culture that prioritizes more personal time and allows flexibility. The survey's open-ended responses were telling, with calls for more humane management styles, greater respect for personal boundaries, and acknowledgment for their contributions.

Compounding these issues are the varied individual needs and aspirations that law firms must contend with. For instance, younger associates burdened with student loans might prioritize financial incentives, while associates with families may value flexibility above all else. These diverse needs create a complex environment where traditional incentive structures and linear career paths no longer suffice.

These factors of dissatisfaction don't just affect individual associates—they ripple through the entire firm’s operations. Frequent turnover leads to operational setbacks, with firms forced to invest repeatedly in onboarding and training for new, sometimes less experienced, talent. In essence, what the study illuminates is a disconnect between the existing operational ethos of many law firms and the evolving needs of a new generation of legal professionals. 
 

The Associate Perspective: Identifying the Right Career Fit

The concept of finding the “right fit" transcends the bounds of simple job satisfaction, evolving into a desire for roles that align with personal values, professional aspirations, and desired work culture. For law firm associates, this goes beyond the prestige of a firm or compensation. It encompasses the nature of the work, the mentorship available, the style of management, and the respect for personal time and individuality. The traditional trajectory of long hours and high-stakes competition for partnership doesn't resonate with everyone. Associates are increasingly seeking opportunities that afford them not just a career but a lifestyle that reflects their priorities.

In this quest for the ideal fit, the rigid structure of traditional law roles can be limiting. This is where legal staffing services like those offered by Lexitas’ Legal Talent Outsourcing team can offer assistance. By facilitating short- or long-term assignments for flexibility minded associates, Lexitas provides lawyers with the unique opportunity to “test the waters” across various legal settings. Whether it's different firm cultures, areas of law, or corporate legal environments, associates can gain first-hand experience in multiple arenas without the strings of a full-time commitment. This model serves multiple purposes. For one thing, it allows associates to make more informed decisions about their career paths. By experiencing different environments, they can assess where they feel most aligned in terms of work style, values, and professional growth opportunities. It’s a chance to understand the nuances of various paths without the pressure or risk that typically accompanies a permanent move.

Second, this flexibility can be incredibly empowering. Associates can take control of their career trajectories, using temporary assignments to build a diverse skill set and professional network. They can identify niches or specializations that resonate with them, setting the stage for a more fulfilling long-term role. Additionally, there's an overlooked psychological benefit. The journey to find the right fit can be daunting, often fraught with uncertainty and second-guessing, and obstructed by perceived sunk costs. The availability of non-permanent assignments can ease this anxiety, providing a safety net of sorts. Associates can explore their options and, importantly, learn what they don’t want—a lesson just as valuable as finding what they do want.

These types of opportunities are a bridge between the present and the future of legal work, addressing the demand for personal and professional alignment and granting associates the breathing room to find their ideal path.
 

How Law Firms Can Navigate These Challenges

The imminent departure of a quarter of law firm associates represents more than just a workforce challenge; it signals a deeper need for law firms to reevaluate their talent management strategies. The traditional method — linear career trajectories, time-bound promotions, one-size-fits-all retention policies—no longer resonate with many (often young) lawyers. In this evolving landscape, law firms must adopt more fluid, responsive approaches to talent mobility and management.

One critical strategy is adopting a more flexible staffing model, an area where services like Lexitas offer valuable partnership. By integrating short-term and long-term staffing solutions, law firms can navigate the ebb and flow of talent mobility with less disruption to their operations. Temporary staffing solutions provide law firms with an immediate response to sudden departures, ensuring that client service and firm productivity do not falter. These stop-gap solutions are more than mere quick fixes; they allow firms the time and flexibility to find the right talent that aligns with the firm's culture and long-term goals. Furthermore, engaging with a diversified staffing model enables law firms to tap into a broader talent pool. They gain access to professionals with varied experiences and niche skill sets that might not typically be available in the traditional recruitment market. 

It's also imperative for law firms to realize that the “revolving door” of associates can be mitigated by offering the types of roles and environments that modern legal professionals seek. This includes creating pathways for alternative work arrangements, such as contract-based or part-time roles, which can be particularly appealing to legal talent pursuing more work-life balance or exploring different career avenues. Services like those offered by Lexitas are not simply band-aid solutions for staffing shortages; they are strategic partners enabling law firms to thrive in a landscape marked by change and to emerge as forward-thinking organizations ready for the future of legal practice.
 

Conclusion

In light of the evolving legal landscape, both law firms and associates stand at a precipice that requires them to reimagine their futures. The shifting expectations of legal professionals, coupled with the dynamic nature of the legal industry, necessitate adaptive strategies that ensure mutual growth and sustainability. This transformation isn't merely about preventing talent loss—it's about cultivating a thriving, resilient organization that attracts, retains, and maximizes talent.

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss how Lexitas’ Legal Talent Outsourcing team can help you find new talent or new career opportunities, please contact us.
 
Author Image

Meron Hewis

President, Legal Talent Division

Meron Hewis is the President of the Legal Talent Outsourcing Division of Lexitas. Ms. Hewis has over 20 years of experience in legal consulting, project management, and alternative legal talent outsourcing solutions. She is a thought leader in the industry, providing unique legal solutions and designing the operations of various legal programs internationally.

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