Most law firms fall into two distinct categories when it comes to how they view partners. Some stores believe that employees are an integral part of their team, and partners try to guide and support colleagues so that they stay in the company for a long time. These stores usually pay colleagues more money, invest in professional development, and allow colleagues to participate in business development and other management efforts. However, other companies view the associates as interchangeable gears in the device. These stores usually pay less cash to their partners, and there isn’t much possibility for partners in these companies. As a result, these partners often leave in search of better opportunities after a few years, and hence there is a high turnover in these stores. Although companies may save money and other resources by using this latter approach, associate turnover is very harmful for law firms. As a result, the partners must invest in their partners so that they remain in the law firm for as long as possible.
Associate turnover can drastically affect attorneys’ corporate memory in a company. For example, it is not uncommon for litigation and some transactional matters to take a long time to come to a solution. It is not uncommon in one country in which I practice that lawsuits take five or even 10 years to come to a solution (I have personally been involved in multiple lawsuits that last 10 years) and over time, many nuances may arise around a file. However, every time someone leaves a company, some understanding of the issue is lost, and it is very difficult for others to quickly process the file.
For example, I once worked for a law firm that had a case that was filed when I was a high school student. In my first week in the company, I had to start preparing summary judgment papers (the first summary judgment suggestion I prepared myself). I looked through the file and realized that four or more lawyers had handled the case before me. I tried to expedite the case by reviewing the exit notes drafted by the departing attorneys, but it was very difficult to understand what was going on. However, if the partner turnover is reduced, the companies may be able to provide better legal services to clients because more institutional memory will be preserved around the file.
The turnover of attorneys can also lead to a smaller group of experienced assistants in a company that can handle complex legal matters. It often takes months – even years – to properly train attorneys. Most of us understand how law school does not train individuals to practice law, and on-the-job training is critical to developing as a lawyer. Before a colleague is properly trained, they are more likely to make mistakes, and cannot handle the same diverse tasks that an experienced attorney can do. Moreover, even if a lawyer has been practicing law for years, it can still take time for that attorney to become experienced in a particular area of law. For example, after working in a few companies, I became a partner in another store that specialized in some collective damages issues. I had to learn a whole new set of rules to be effective in the role, and it took time.
However, the constant turnover of attorneys means fewer trained attorneys in the company. Moreover, it means that companies lose all of the investment they put into developing a colleague. Of course, training attorneys takes time and effort, and all of the work cannot be monetized. When colleagues leave a company, they take that experience with them, and their new store will benefit from all of the investment that the first company made in the associate.
Affiliate turnover is also really bad for the corporate image. When colleagues at a company leave frequently, it sends a bad message about the company, because there must be a reason why so many people leave frequently. People are less likely to engage with a company if they think a store is a bad place to work or not treat their colleagues well. Furthermore, many internal actors understand the negatives of associate turnover. When someone in the home has to communicate with different people over the course of the life of an issue, they will likely be able to tell that new people are not as familiar with something as the colleagues who initially worked on an issue. Moreover, it can be frustrating for internal employees to lose contact with people in a company they’ve had a relationship with during the life of the matter. Of course, employees communicate with customers to different degrees in different stores, but the associate turnover definitely looks bad for customers and others.
In the end, some companies do not mind the turnover of the affiliates, because it is an inevitable consequence of paying the partners cheap wages, exposing them to the environment of the pressure cooker, and other unpleasant conditions. However, associate turnover can be extremely detrimental to businesses, and more stores must make sincere efforts to ensure their partners stay for the long haul.
Jordan Rothman is a partner Rothman Law Firm, A full-service law firm in New York and New Jersey. He is also a founder Student Debt Diary, Which is a website that discusses how to pay off student loans. You can reach Jordan via email at email@example.com.