Does it Matter if Law Firm Associates are Happy?

Does it Matter if Law Firm Associates are Happy?

As CEO of Aderant I regularly visit with our clients. My impression over the years is that practicing law is a very tough business.  Young associates are expected to hit the ground running, partners are expected to bring in clients and everyone is expected to bill.  While mentor relationships often do exist between the partners and the associates, it seems more of a tough-love model than a nurturing one. So what has this old-fashioned management style accomplished?

Forbes reported last year that “Associate attorney is the unhappiest job in America” and according to the National Association for Law Placement almost 80% of attorneys at large law firms no longer work there five years later.  In the business world this level of employee dissatisfaction and attrition would be a disaster.  I know that our business could not flourish with 80% employee turnover and I struggle to believe that a sound argument exists for a law firm to operate this way.

My business experience clearly proves to me that contented employees increase productivity, retention, and improve client relations and work quality.  This ultimately leads to higher revenues and lower employee costs. Just last week Aderant held a companywide annual kick-off meeting where a large focus of the agenda was centered on company culture and employee issues.  Bringing together employees from across the globe is a large cost, but I believe it produces better results for our company and ultimately our clients.

But you don’t need to believe me – the most recent issue of Law Practice Magazine focused solely on management issues.  One of their expert panelists noted that “communication, employee appreciation and long-range planning are key to firm culture… You would be amazed at how people go out of their way for you because they know you appreciate them and value their work.”   A recent study in the Colorado Lawyer noted that “despite the important role supervisors and managers play in the workings of law firms, firms often fail to train new supervisors or give them guidance regarding management methods or techniques.”

One last point. To anyone who still believes that attorneys are only interested in the money, the University of Maryland Law School recently published a survey on the factors young lawyers care about.  As you can see, compensation clearly trails many other “lifestyle” factors for young lawyers today.

I know that the legal industry has traditionally not focused on associate satisfaction but I would argue that with the massive changes now taking place there’s never been a better time to make it a priority.

Am I on-target or off-base?  Let me know what you think!


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