We were recently asked to make a presentation to managing partners of small law firms in Texas on best hiring practices. In preparation for this seminar talk, we were reminded of the importance of RETAINING existing talent.
Hiring is just the start of building a team, once someone is found and trained, the law firm or legal department needs to know how to KEEP them! The costs of turnover are mostly hidden, but affect the bottom line of small law firms significantly. The firm loses the skills and historical knowledge that the departing employee is taking with them, as well as the time and cost invested in both hiring and training them. Departures can also impact the firm’s clients, who may have come to like and trust the former employee. Avoid all of these negatives by KEEPING the employees you VALUE.
What can law firms do to prevent star talent from leaving for another position?
This list is based on our many years of daily candidate interaction, talking with and meeting candidates every day, either when they call us to get active or when we call them with a new opportunity:
- Treat staff as valuable and respected members of your team. While Staff members may not have the same education and training as you, they deserve as much respect and consideration as you expect reciprocated. The quickest way to lose good people is to fail to let them know, through your actions, attitude, and words, that they are a valuable member of your team.
- Do what you say and say what you do. Nothing makes employees lose confidence in their employer quicker than being promised something that is not delivered. Be clear in your communications, especially about expected timing and amount of raises, bonuses, etc. so that there is no misunderstanding.
- Make sure employees know what you expect of them. It may seem basic, but often in small firms, employees have a wide breadth of responsibilities. If they don’t know the scope of their job responsibilities and what you need from them, misunderstandings and recriminations start to occur as they fail to perform as expected.
- Provide flexibility. Staff members are often juggling the responsibilities that come with families as well as their careers. Flexibility in work schedule may be difficult in a law firm environment, but allowing for some flexibility goes a long way.
- Foster employee development. This could be training to learn a new job skill, paying for them to join a local professional organization, and encouraging/allowing their participation in the organization, even if occasionally during the workday. Their participation in professional organizations will likely benefit your firm as well, as the employee learns and brings back to your firm best practices in their area and ideas from colleagues in similar environments.
- Build Team Morale. Consider a quarterly event outside of the office, such as a Fun Run, Softball Team, Book Club or a way to give back to the community as a team.
- Provide some sort of feedback system. Staff members often feel that their feedback or input is not welcomed or valued. Consider a system where proactive feedback is welcomed and addressed.
- Conduct “stay” interviews. In addition to performing exit interviews to learn why employees are leaving, consider asking longer-tenured employees why they stay. Ask questions such as, “Why did you come to work here?” “Why have you stayed?” “What would make you leave?” and, “What are your nonnegotiable issues?” “What would you change or improve?”
- Promote from within whenever possible. And give employees a clear path of advancement, even if it just means added responsibilities. Some employees will become frustrated if they do not have goals to attain or if they do not see a clear future for themselves with the firm.
- Compensation: You’re probably surprised it hasn’t been mentioned yet. But YES, it is important.
- Offer competitive compensation. Make sure your staff members are well-compensated. Any employee who is underpaid is ripe to be recruited away by another law firm. Talk to your colleagues at other law firms and legal recruiters who focus on your market to obtain data on what other law firms are paying their staff.
- Offer a benefits package that fits your employees’ needs. Providing health insurance, life insurance and a retirement-savings plan is essential in retaining your star employees. If group plans are not possible due to your small size, help them find individual plans and offer to pay a portion of each.
- Provide less-traditional benefits. Sometimes the smallest things, like “Free Bagel Fridays” may seem insignificant to you, but can make a staff member feel more at home and more loyal to the firm. Allowing them to take off a couple of hours early on days like Halloween are other small perks which are not expected but go a long way towards keeping morale high.
Even if you pay top compensation, for some employees, even top compensation cannot make up for a lack of some of the other intangibles mentioned above. Know your employees well enough to know what they value about their current job, and focus on providing the aspect described above that mean the most to them. A great deal of time, cost and risk is involved in any new hire. Avoid this cost and risk by keeping the proven talent already among your ranks!