Integrating lawyers: how to retain lateral partners and associates

Integrating lawyers - How to retain your lateral partners and associates

Legacy and growth are aspirations of ambitious law firms. To realize these aspirations, firms focus on integrating lawyers who they feel can add real value. But something isn’t quite right. It appears that, while firms are able to find the right talent, retaining it is something few are equipped to accomplish.

Low retention rates linked to poor lawyer integration?

Decipher’s recent Global Lateral Hire Risk Mitigation Study shone a spotlight on the Am Law 200 to identify and evaluate and address the risks associated with lateral hires. It found that, while “many law firm leaders take justifiable pride in the progress they’ve made with integrating lateral partners, retention rates continue to disappoint, and we hear increasingly of laterals having malpractice issues.”

According to the report, as much as 30% of lateral hires leave a firm within five years.

Smarter integration leads to successful retention

Dorianna Phillips is Director of Lawyer Recruiting at Stoel Rives. She’s a client and a friend with a tremendous amount of experience in the recruitment industry, and a strong focus on employee integration and retention. According to Dorianna, a fundamental shift is required for firms to boost their retention rates.

Dorianna has seen that all too often firms take on new hires and create an experience where onboarding and retention management are two separate things. “After 3-5 days of mind-numbing inductions and IT set-up, the ‘onboarding’ stops and the ‘retention’ starts. Unfortunately, retention activities often only crop up every 3, 6 or 12 months, by which time it’s way too late to change an employee’s first impressions of your company,” she explains.

And she’s right: integrating lawyers requires more care and structure.

“So many firms bring in new hires, give them some training, and then hope they’ll stay,” says Dorianna. “We shouldn’t be hoping they’ll stay – we should be ensuring they’ll stay. And it really isn’t that difficult – you simply need to give them the access to the right people, tools and processes to ensure they feel valued over the long term.”

But what does a complete integration plan look like for a lateral hire joining your firm? And what can you do to start the retention process from day one?

Integrating lawyers is a long-term play

Integrating lateral partners and associates will differ from firm to firm, but there is a set of best practices that we’ve seen produce great results. These are:

  • Connecting new associates with mentors and coaches who can provide guidance and support. In the case of lateral partners, a peer liaison is a great resource for learning how to deal with key stakeholders and highlighting any unspoken rules.
  • Ensuring that the relevant people make time to introduce themselves to the new hire, ideally in person or over the phone.
  • Scheduling regular coffee breaks with co-workers to help the new recruit build relationships.
  • Inviting new recruits and their partner out to lunch or dinner with senior stakeholders.
  • Ensuring they’re invited to join relevant interest groups, as well as any diversity and inclusion committees.

“Making time to schedule these activities shows that your organization really cares,” says Dorianna. And survey results echo her sentiment. Lateral hires are often under tremendous pressure to produce results, but few are able to deliver half of the business they promised and even fewer manage to produce 75% of their client book.

“Sometimes, especially when people are busy, they forget these simple acts of kindness. All the HR team needs to do is find a way to remind them just how important and impactful these little things are – and that’s what an employee integration process is designed to do,” adds Dianna.

This level of support will help new hires feel more at ease and give them the confidence that they need to feel good about their new firms, because without it, new hires will find it easier to exit, leaving a firm with a cost as high as 200-400% of annual compensation born out of salaries, signing bonuses, recruiting fees, onboarding costs and more.

Evolving your employee integration process with automation

The simplest and most effective way to generate the right results is through simplifying processes. And when it comes to integrating new hires, this idea holds up, especially in busy law firms.

In Dorianna’s case, her team used to manage their firm’s employee integration process in Excel: a highly manual and time-consuming process.

We worked with several HR leaders, including Dorianna, to create an intuitive piece of software that would automate much of this process.

vi’s Employee Integration and Retention solution enables HR teams to set up new integration programs in a third of the time previously required. The software makes the entire process much easier to manage and measure. “It saves us a ton of time, which equates to dollars, but it also improves the employee experience, keeps our firm happy and healthy, and increases productivity,” explains Dorianna.

And that’s what we’re all about: keeping your people healthy, happy and productive by giving them a great employee experience. It’s time to stop losing good people to poor employee experiences, and we can help you to do just that.

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