A consistent question I receive from practice owners and professionals is, “How do I keep good associates?” Lawyers and other professionals come and go, and no law firm or profession is immune from this trend. Young professionals seem to hop from firm to firm, or want to strike out on their own, once they get a bit of experience under their belt. When you are training new associates, ideally, you are training them to be experienced, self-reliant, and productive–in other words–the kind of professional that could leave your firm and start their own practice. The attributes that you want your associates to have are the same attributes that make them ready to practice on their own.
So, how do you keep good attorneys or any employees for that matter? There is no magic bullet or sure-fire way to retain talented employees, but there are things that you can do, beyond paying a fair salary, to encourage your employees to stay.
1) Open Communication and Teamwork – Let your associates know that they can come to you with anything. Foster an environment of open communication and working as a team. Make clear that they can come to you with concerns, problems, or even if they make a mistake. You can work together to find a solution.
2) Be a Mentor – In addition to imparting knowledge in your field of practice, instill your own core values in your employees. Show them how you care about and value your clients and your employees. Show, by example, your values of honesty, trust, dedication, and perseverance, or whatever your core values may be. You can also encourage your associates to take on more responsibilities and try different tasks. Then you can show them patience and trust when working with them in these new areas.
3) Get Feedback – Ask your staff how you are doing as a boss and listen to what they have to say. Value their input, because they are part of a team. Then implement changes based upon their input. If you foster an environment of trust, employees will be more likely to share this kind of constructive criticism.
4) Create a Positive Environment – Again, this positive environment starts with your positive outlook and attitude. Have a bit of fun or show your sense of humor. Show gratitude for and appreciation of your employees. Bring in lunch or dessert once a month. Celebrate employee birthdays or work anniversaries. Engage in team building activities.
5) Talk about the Future – Many professionals are reluctant to follow this advice, but it is important. If you don’t share enough about what you see as the future of the firm, and how that associate fits into that future, you will likely lose that employee to a better offer or their willingness to risk starting their own practice. Don’t keep your staff wondering or guessing about the future. Share your vision with them and let them know you would like them to be a part of it.
Finally, it all starts with hiring the right person, i.e., an associate who is a good fit for your firm. A person who is solely interested in making a buck is not likely the person who will stay and is not likely a person whom you would want to stay in your firm. So, choose carefully.