4 Reasons Why Senior Associates May Be Leaving Your Firm


Having been at the law firm market front line and dealing with firms of all shapes and sizes for over 20 years, I have found the following factors contribute to why many Senior Associates and Special Counsel leave firms:

To Progress to Partnership

Many up and coming S.A.’s and S.C.’s, with a transportable client following, are often the most underpaid lawyers relative to contribution. This is especially in some of the larger and most prestigious law firms within Australia. The rationale of the firms, in those instances, is based on a “tightly – held” equity model that can inhibit promotion based on talent and dangles the carrot of partnership to encourages longevity! The main problem with the “do your time” approach is that law firms are competing for talent in an open market where other firms have adopted a performance focused model. This latter approach tends to attract those lawyers that are high performing, at an earlier stage in their careers, who want to aggressively propel their careers forward.

The Relationship with their Partner in their Current Firm

If your partner is not giving you the space to develop your own clients or if they are really difficult to work for then we all know the saying, “most people don’t leave a job they leave their manager”. Same goes for law firms!

Your retention strategy is non-existent or woeful

If you don’t have a clear plan for every employee of your firm; how they can progress their career within your organisation, then, guess what, they will find a way to progress their career outside of your organisation! Don’t wait to respond to their concerns; be proactive about ensuring everybody in your firm has a career plan that includes:

  • Incentives around new client acquisition;
  • Billable hours
  • Marketing initiatives

Have a systematic process for engaging your people through processes that include regular catch ups, sharing of performance metrics and simple clarity around firm and individual goals. This also has the added benefit of stimulating your high performers.

Keep your promises – don’t move goal posts

If your initial targets and goals are underpinned by well thought out metrics, then everybody benefits when your team succeeds. If not then that is on you! A common complaint by senior lawyers upon exiting a law firm is that the firm “went back on their word…. didn’t appreciate my results…..withheld/delayed my bonus…..” The trust is gone when this happens.

In conclusion, keeping promises, rewarding for effort and having an egalitarian approach to your team members, where everybody can benefit and share in the firm’s success, is the key to retaining your most valuable resources – your people!


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