A recent Major Lindsay & Africa Survey shows a startling gap between law firm management and law firm associates. Major Lindsay & Africa is a legal search firm that conducted its study at the beginning of 2023.

Here are some results that should cause management to take notice:

  • 60% of the associates surveyed say their firms are doing little to nothing to keep them at their firms.
  • 25% say they do not plan to stay at their firm for over a year.
  • 92% say they have yet to be asked to participate in an interview to give feedback on their experience at the firm.

These are pretty sad statistics when you think about it. In addition to offering an encouraging workplace, management should look at associates as investments. Let’s face it: firms spend a lot of time formally or informally training associates. If an associate leaves, that training investment is for naught. Not to mention the work disruption and the difficulty in filling the position by someone else who must then get up to speed. And, of course, it’s axiomatic that happier, more satisfied employees do better work. 

As Kate Reder Sheikh, a Partner with MLA’s Associate Practice Group puts it, “It’s often shocking for the partners and managers of a firm to hear an associate they admire is leaving with no perceived warning. While these moves are sometimes unavoidable, they are often caused by factors that could have been addressed proactively by the partners who managed and mentored the associate.”

As the Report further observes: “Hiring and onboarding take an incredible amount of time and resources, and although not every hire is going to be a long-term success, there are many who will or should be. We routinely hear from partners or recruiting managers that they are shocked and saddened to learn that their favorite associate is leaving and no one saw it coming.” 

The title of the Report perhaps says it best: To Retain Top Associates, Firms Need to Put Their People First. The reality is that people just don’t stay in jobs as long as they once did. And they particularly don’t stay if they aren’t happy. 

Treat ’em like mushrooms

Yet as these statistics show, there still seems to be an old school attitude toward associates at many firms: if they don’t like it here, they can just leave. We have no obligation to make work pleasant. Treat ’em like mushrooms.

And you say these kids are just different. They don’t want to work. The expectations of associates these days are outlandish and stem from a sense of entitlement and laziness that must be reined in. There is a “we had to do it, and so should you”. Most of the time, these conclusions are spat out with little data to back them up.

But here is what the Africa study shows about what would make associates more likely to stay at their firms:

  • Money (78%)
  • Stronger culture (69%
  • Quality of day to day work (64%).

Associates also value law firm prestige (50%), informal mentorship (34%), and formal mentorship (18%).

Not working fewer hours. Not a better work-life balance. What these associates want are what most have always wanted: getting adequately compensated, feeling part of an organization that stands for certain things, and having good work to do.

And for those firms who adopt mushroom management: as Seth Godin puts it: If you treat your employees like mushrooms (keep them in the dark and regularly throw crap on them), it’s entirely likely you will get precisely the work you deserve in return.