Why Associates Bail Out

The fact that 80 percent of associates leave their big firm job within 5 years has been well documented by NALP. There are many theories about why most associates leave and even some controversy about whether large firms actually rely on associate attrition to ensure that partner profits are not diluted. To those of us who consult to the legal profession, it seem ludicrous to invest so much time and energy in recruiting (on the front end) and to put little thought into retention (the back end of recruiting.) But as law firm profits continue to soar, it is hard to see how this is all hurting law firms in the short run.

Nonetheless, I still believe that in the long run, sound management practices can only strengthen a law firm. There is a good article in the Legal Times in D.C. in which a career consultant comes up with some of her own theories explaining associate attrition. She suggests that attrition may be due to a number of factors including: law school attracts many bright people who have not really taken the time to think critically about what they want in a career; law students do not have enough information to make informed decisions about how firms differ from each other; and a it is difficult to switch departments even if you conclude that you are better suited to another practice area.

She suggests that firms adopt a number of policies to address these issues including: providing opportunities for associates to change roles, training associates in business development and effective management techniques and cultivating a strong alumni network of associates and partners who do leave.

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