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Why Do Lawyers Leave Their Firms? Tips To Reduce Employee Turnover

Patrick Davis

Written by

Patrick Davis


September 20, 2020

Why Do Lawyers Leave Their Firms? Tips To Reduce Employee Turnover

Law firm managing partners and firm administrators are well aware of the cost of employee turnover. Turnover in the attorney ranks costs between 1.5 and 2 times the annual compensation, while staff turnover costs approximately .75 of one years’ salary. Multiply these very real costs by turnover rates of between 10% (the largest firms) and 50% (firms under 10 attorneys), and the costs to the industry add up to billions of dollars per year.

It is well known that lawyers in private practice, at firms large and small, must work 60 or more hours in order to bill 40 hours to clients. Unfortunately, this pace will result in “only” 2,000 billable hours (allowing for two weeks’ vacation and no holidays), a total that will not earn much positive recognition at the associates’ year-end review. Yale Law School estimates an attorney must be “at work”  a minimum of 3,058 hours to bill the magic 2,200 hours.

The number one reason lawyers leave the profession is “too many hours,” while the number two reason lawyers switch firms is “work-life balance,” a/k/a, too many hours. Here is how individuals describe the problem:

  • Endless deadlines
  • Multiple all-nighters
  • Being on call 24/7
  • Lack of quality family time
  • Missing out on life
  • Billable hours “arms race;” bravado about billing 2,500+ hours

The failure of the legal marketplace to deliver reasonable schedules is clearly a major contributing factor to turnover and employee burnout. Law firms have tried, with very mixed results, to address the issue in a variety of ways. Some have created the position of “Balanced Hours Coordinator,” or “Director of Well-Being;” many have tried part-time or at-home employment.

Two major problems have dogged the part-time/at-home programs at law firms. The first can be called the “competence stigma.” Those not seen at the office all hours of the day and night are perceived to be not as serious or dedicated to the practice as those seen every day. The second issue is “schedule creep.” The part-time attorney, having agreed to reduced pay in exchange for reduced hours, finds that the partners and/or clients are demanding full-time effort and accessibility.

Here are some observations and ideas for law firms seeking to reduce turnover.

One result of the required physical distancing and stay-at-home orders associated with the Covid pandemic response is a more accepting attitude towards remote work in the legal profession. Firms of all sizes are using remote legal software to work from anywhere. The efficient deployment and use of remote legal cloud software with communication capability increases not only the efficiency within a firm, but also the connectedness that is needed in order to build trust among colleagues. This can help eliminate the competence stigma and reduce turnover.

Firms struggling to implement part-time programs can eliminate schedule creep by using remote legal cloud software that automates scheduling as well as time tracking. Convenient views by week, month, and timeline allow everyone to know what’s coming up, where everyone is, and where they need to be. Capturing all the time being spent on a project allows you to balance assignments, identify inefficiencies, calculate the profitability of fixed fee arrangements, and more. New users typically report capturing significant amounts of previously lost time, while also identifying which activities should be reassessed in terms of their profitability.

Firms striving to fairly compensate part-time and remote workers can track customized Key Performance Indicators by file, attorney, and staff member to ensure that their contributions are recognized and that they are fairly compensated.

Employee satisfaction surveys consistently rank, “I have the right tools to do my job,” as one of the most important aspects of employee satisfaction, often ranking ahead of salary in importance. Increase employee satisfaction and reduce turnover by upgrading to an integrated remote legal cloud software system which includes employee-pleasing features such as:

  • An easy-to-use time recording feature available anywhere
  • automated scheduling
  • a robust template library
  • excellent customer support
  • complete case files and information securely available on the cloud or on your device

Increased efficiency will equal higher job satisfaction and result in lower turnover, leading to increased profitability and, perhaps, a bit extra in the year-end bonuses for everyone.

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