Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Firms Still on the Recruiting/Attrition Treadmill

Natalie's post last week was so good that it is worth repeating. Consider this a p.s. to her 8/8/06 blog below.

An article on today’s law.com says that firms are having a harder time recruiting (“Law Firms Rework Campus Recruiting” by Leigh Jones, The National Law Journal, Aug. 15, 2006). Firms need more attorneys, and law school enrollment is down, the article says. So firms are changing their recruiting tactics – and the strategy some are choosing means that they’re trying to entice law students who are looking for a good quality of life by promising that they’ll make them work harder than ever.

Makes a lot of sense, right?

It is really true – Baker Botts reports that it is raising first years’ salaries to $140,000. Salary increases like that only exacerbate attrition, however – requiring firms to find even more attorneys to hire. Throwing money at associates will almost certainly mean that attorneys will have to work longer hours to cover the increase – the very thing attorneys do not want. As firms raise billable hour requirements, associates who want a life outside the office will raise up stakes and look for less demanding pastures.

Obviously, Baker Botts hopes to attract more applicants by getting in front of the pack in terms of salary. Whatever competitive recruiting advantage the salary raise gives them will vanish as all the firms match the higher salary – unless the firm raises salaries again.

The better way to attract and retain top talent is to offer attorneys the better quality of life they crave through balanced hours programs.

Research shows that for law students and laterals in the job market, work/life balance is one of the most important factors in choosing employers. According to Leigh Jones’s article, NALP reports that 78% of attorneys now leave their firms by their fifth year, and the inability to balance competing demands of work and personal obligations is frequently cited by attorneys as the reason they left their firms. This is true for both men and women. As Catalyst has reported, male and female attorneys report similar levels of work/life conflict. Moreover, an American Management Association survey of 352 companies that found employers reported more success in retaining employees by "giving them a life" than by offering more cash, according to Sue Shellenbarger of the The Wall Street Journal. Another study by Harris Interactive and the Radcliffe Public Policy Center found that slightly over 70 percent of men in their twenties and thirties said they would be willing to take lower salaries in exchange for more family time.

It would be so much cheaper to give associates time rather than money. As we set forth in Solving the Part-Time Puzzle: The Law Firm’s Guide to Balanced Hours, recruiting would be easier, attrition would go down, client relationships would stabilize, business development would improve, and productivity would increase.

There are a handful of firms that are leading the pack in terms of balanced hours. Kirkpatrick Lockhart and Dickstein are standouts. When laterals and law students call PAR and ask for the names of the best firms to work for, these are the types of firms they are looking for. I would be very surprised if they are having any difficulty with their recruiting.

-- Cynthia


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