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Keeping the Keepers

Boston, Massachusetts – September 29, 2020 – The NALP Foundation and Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) announce today the release of their joint study, Keeping the Keepers IV: Mobility and Management of Associate Talent, an in-depth look at associate hiring, attrition and retention from 2012–2018.

The NALP Foundation’s Keeping the Keepers series and annual Update on Associate Attrition are landmark research studies for the legal industry. This report represents the fourth publication in the Keepers series, and is the second collaboration between The NALP Foundation and MLA on this important study.

As the legal profession wrestles with the COVID-19 pandemic’s short and long-term impacts, the study’s rich historic perspective and unique data provide much-needed insights for law firms to critically assess and better understand how to develop and retain talent.

Key topics covered in Keeping the Keepers IV include:

  • The recent shift in law firm hiring from entry to lateral hiring
  • The evolution of non-partnership track opportunities
  • Hiring sources – OCI and otherwise
  • Associate attrition
  • Associate departures, including reasons for both entry and lateral departures and associate destinations
  • Firms’ pre-COVID planning for a potential recession

According to the study, 65% of all entry-level associates who departed had tenure of five years or fewer, and 50% of lateral hires left their firm within three years of hire. The most frequently cited reason for an entry-level associate’s departure was “pursuit of specific practice interests.” The most frequently cited reason for a lateral associate’s departure was “work quality standards were not met.” The most popular departure destination for both entry-level and lateral associates was another law firm, followed by corporate in-house counsel.

“This study is critical reading for law firms seeking benchmarking and management data and tools, as well as for law schools and law students seeking to understand associates’ career trajectories and to effectively prepare students for practice,” said NALP Foundation President & CEO Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower.

“Law firms’ ability to attract and retain talented associates is vital to their long-term planning and success,” said Barbara Kott, executive director for Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Associate Practice Group. “While the legal landscape has changed dramatically as a result of the COVID- 19 pandemic, firms that take the time to understand why associates have historically stayed in their positions, or have left for new opportunities, will be better positioned to retain the talent they have.”

The information contained in this report reflects research results from two distinct NALP Foundation endeavors. The first is the Foundation’s annual Update on Associate Attrition, which outlines associate hiring and departure data from 837 firms, providing detailed data on over 27,000 associate hires and over 20,000 associate departures during that seven-year timeframe, including key variables such as law firm hiring, attrition rates, departure destinations, and the long-term patterns in entry-level and lateral hiring, departures, and attrition over time.

The second research initiative is a fall 2019 supplemental survey, which explored 68 firms’ hiring sources, referral incentives, alternative career path opportunities, recruiting efforts, as well as hiring and retention trends.

Finally, for the first time in the Keepers series, The NALP Foundation and MLA added new analyses of the data by race/ethnicity and tenure past the five-year mark, as well by geographic region and chronological distribution of attrition rates.

MLA undertook sponsorship at the project outset and had no influence over survey questions, or access to individual participant responses. Powered by MLA’s financial support, The NALP Foundation administered all surveys to ensure confidentiality of data. No identifying information is associated with any law firm, or individual, nor was specific response data forwarded to MLA or any other party in any form. All data is reported in the aggregate.

The full report is available for purchase from The NALP Foundation at: www.nalpfoundation.org/bookstore.

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