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.

Although people work for a variety of reasons (professional fulfilment, personal challenge, desire to serve the community, meaningful work, contributing to society), the principal reason most people work is to get paid.

Even those for whom money ranks farther down the list of reasons for working are not interested in being unfairly compensated. Fair compensation is the first and most critical component of a successful recruitment and retention program. Only once this initial hurdle is cleared can a firm and its associates focus on issues of productivity and practice development.

That said, fair compensation does not always equate to top-of-market compensation. If your firm expects its lawyers to docket more than 2,000 billable hours every year, then it can and should pay top dollar. But many of today’s associates are focused on more than just compensation. They are seeking responsibility and recognition for their efforts, the chance to learn from and work with skilled practitioners, professional growth and development, some measure of control over
their personal and professional lives, an opportunity to have a hand in the firm’s evolution, and to receive timely and thoughtful feedback.

The old law firm maxim that “no news is good news” simply does not work anymore and is, in fact, a fail-safe way of having associates walk out the door “out of the blue.” On the question of bonuses, many firms offer their associates plans that are intended to reinforce and reward the principles valued by the firm. If your firm only cares about financial profitability, then bonuses on billable hours alone will suffice. Too many firms claim they want their associates to contribute in ways beyond the billable hour but only reward those who are exceptionally profitable.

Inconsistent recognition programs are a guaranteed path to high associate turnover.