The Great Resignation has become a costly experience for many law firms, as top talent walks away seeking better opportunities. The pandemic has underscored the importance of work-life balance with many workers placing value on things like remote work situations, better perks, and more employee flexibility. But instead of staying in a reactionary role and finding out why people are leaving during an exit interview, there’s a strong case for using “stay” interviews to boost retention in the legal industry.
Why the shift to stay interviews from exit interviews?
When a valued law firm employee quits, the loss can have a negative impact on the person’s department and maybe even the entire firm. Not only can an unexpected departure lead to lost revenue, but it can also lower the productivity and morale of the remaining staff.
But, once an employee is ready to tell you, “I resign,” you’ve already lost them. A lot has happened leading up to saying those two words.
When law firm employees leave, leadership always wants to know why. But it’s often too late. Even if they’re honest about their reasons, they’re already out the door. If you want to keep your best employees, you need to start having these conversations before they leave.
Stay interviews provide law firm retention insights
You may be able to find out why people choose to stay – what they like about working at your firm. This can give insight into the factors that are foundational to acquisition and retention efforts.
According to the Thomson Reuters Institute 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market, firms pay a 20-50% premium on attracting lawyers. Instead of paying this premium to recruit and attract an unknown entity, it makes sense to hold onto the talent you already have. Some law firms are adjusting billing requirements for existing attorneys or paying stay bonuses. But it’s often not just about the money.
Many lawyers hired during the pandemic have grown accustomed to remote work opportunities. Those suddenly being asked to “return” to the office five days per week don’t view this as a reasonable request. There are fewer distractions at home, even though many arguments can be made for at least a hybrid work environment.
Doesn’t it make sense to learn more about what your most valued staff are thinking and feeling before they begin speaking to recruiters or searching online job ads? Asking current employees what they’d like to see changed or improved can give you insight into what you need to work on to prevent attrition.
Stay interview best practices for honest feedback
A stay interview shouldn’t be about the employee’s performance. This is a separate meeting addressing different metrics. Instead of giving feedback to the employee, you are asking for an honest appraisal of the company and the individual position. The timing should be separate from any employee reviews.
Legal professionals will likely be guarded in their answers to these kinds of questions, but you’ll need candid answers to make a real impact. To encourage honesty, make these interviews more frequent—such as quarterly—to emphasize management’s interest in improving conditions.
Consider your venue – your office or conference room can be an environment that stifles candor. Instead, take people out for coffee, lunch, or dinner. Make it a priority to create a comfortable environment where employees feel like you’re listening, not looking for opportunities to punish them.
Turning stay interview insights into an action plan
Once you feel like you’ve got a representative sample of feedback, gather leadership to discuss what you’ve learned. It’s important to identify what is working well and put strategies in place to preserve those elements.
One of the biggest shifts that happened during the pandemic was a more reflective mindset toward our career paths. In other words, a person might give more thought to whether a particular law firm is fulfilling their needs. How does work align with their personal values?
Do lawyers appreciate the firm’s efforts to support social causes? Is the work the firm is doing impacting the greater good in the world? What is the firm’s stance on certain issues like diversity, sustainability, and access to justice?
Make sure these remain a priority as the firm evolves. Conversely, you’ll likely find a substantial list of wishes or areas of improvement. While it’s important to show you’re acting, make a plan to prioritize those items that are both impactful and achievable.
Often, simply demonstrating a commitment to listen to your team can be a major retention tool. When you begin conducting these interviews, keep track of your employee turnover. There is a decent chance retention rates improve as you develop more loyalty among your top talent. Learn more about how you can win the war for talent.