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WORKING WITH LAWYERS

Measure your associates’ satisfaction to keep them on board

Do you know whether or not your firm’s associates are content or if there is a mass exodus in your future? Find out with a well-crafted survey.

Your firm’s greatest asset is its associates, yet associate satisfaction is often overlooked.

To keep those associates happy, you need to find out what’s making them unhappy, and do that with frequent and focused surveys.

Survey when there’s a change in the office or a gut feeling that they aren’t satisfied with the direction the firm is taking or with their own development.

Survey too when the firm adds a new practice group or gets rid of an old one, opens or closes an office, changes managing partners, or is seeing an increase in the workload.

Always survey when the attorneys leave, especially if they are going someplace else to do what they are already doing in your firm.

Some standard, some customized

Focus the questions on whatever issues are at the top of the associates’ minds, and to hit the mark dead on, have a few of the associates help draw up the questions.

To get worthwhile answers, limit the questions to 10 or 15. For the best response, focus them all on one particular topic.

For example, if the workload is heavy, ask questions such as:

Is there anything the firm can do to help you manage your workload? How are we doing with our integration efforts (as the firm goes through a merger)? Are we recruiting the right people?

Another area that needs attention is whether the firm is recruiting people who will be happy in the environment. For that type of survey, ask questions such as

  • What was the primary factor that brought you to this firm?
    •     quality of the clients
    •     substance of the work
    •     prestige of the firm
    •     training and development opportunities
    •     other (please explain)
  • How would you assess the quality of orientation and integration?
  • Has anything impeded your training and development?

If several people say training and development was the attraction but people who leave say they aren’t satisfied with the training, you should either improve the training or start looking for attorneys who want something else.

Do we give enough guidance?

Ask about the mentoring and supervision and the partners who provide it.

  • How would you assess the quality of your supervision? (superior-good-average-poor)
  • Are there any supervisors you would identify as especially good? Poor?
  • What types of supervision do you consider productive?
    •     regular feedback
    •     discussions about the backgrounds of cases
    •     involving all members of the team
    •     giving assignments in a timely manner
    •     giving clear assignments
    •     giving feedback and evaluations
  • Have any senior attorneys reached out to you as mentors?
  • Describe specific actions the firm has taken in mentorship.
  • Have you received regular information about your progress and performance?

Are we working people too hard?

Next is perhaps the most important point of satisfaction—the work assignments. If the associates are getting uninteresting, unchallenging work, expect frustration and exodus. The same is true if they are being handed work on Friday afternoon that they could have been assigned Tuesday when they had time to do it.

  • Are you happy with the work?
  • Is it consistent with the firm’s goals?
  • Would you say that work is given out in a fair manner?

Paving the path to partnership

Then there is the issue of promotion.

The associates need enough feedback to know if they are in line for partnership but often they don’t know what it is going to take to get there.

  • Do you understand what it will take to become a partner?
  • Do you understand the evolving expectations of the firm?
  • How can we make our expectations clearer and explicit?
  • Is the path to partnership clear?
  • Do you have any general comments about your experience with the firm?

Action is necessary

Don’t even think about a survey unless the firm is prepared to act on what the associates say. When people make comments, they assume the firm will respond to those comments and make changes.

That doesn’t mean that every item mentioned has to be addressed. However, if the dominant theme in responses is that the workload is overwhelming, it makes sense to lighten it up.

Also, the response has to be visible to the associates. They have to see that their remarks are generating changes. It is of no value to put the information to quiet use. Go back to the associates and tell them what the firm is going to do about what they said.


Editor’s picks:

Model Tool: Employee referral form

What’s the ’employee experience’ like at your law firm?

How a mentor program can improve your associate retention rates


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