Attracting the best possible lateral associates is critical to a law firm’s ability to maintain its competitive edge, financial leverage, internal succession and future success.

The January 2012 issue of LAWPRO Magazine included an article by Cleo Kirkland, a senior recruitment consultant at The Counsel Network in Toronto, which discussed what firms can do to both attract the best new talent and retain the best people they already have. It features examples of different approaches firms have take to address this challenge.

The single most valuable tool in associate retention is effective communication. All too often, lawyers in management positions fail to communicate critical information about the firm and where it is going to its associates. These managers become absorbed in and distracted by in the day-to-day practice of law or firm management and mistakenly assume that the associates at the firm know what is taking place ‘at the top’.

If an associate is not performing, firm managers often assume that the associate knows he or she is underperforming and needs to pick up his or her game. Perhaps even worse, many firms do not communicate to star associates that they are doing a good job, meeting or exceeding expectations, and are valued for their contributions to the success of the firm. as a result, the law firm misses a considerable opportunity to recognize and reward the efforts of its stars in a meaningful way.

Beyond sharing information to retain lawyers, there is another and more important aspect of good communication and that is the need to listen. Law firms are typically chock-full of great talkers, with great listeners a considerably scarcer resource. To retain people, especially star associates, firms must become good at listening. One of the most valuable tools a law firm has is the ability to receive and provide regular feedback. This can be achieved in any number of ways, including formal orientation programs, an internal mentoring program, written procedures manuals for new lawyers, a designated professional development director, and regular reward and recognition programs.