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How to Keep Your Legal Talent from Walking Out the Door in a Healthy Job Market

Your people are the lifeblood of your organization—the foundation on which its success is built. That’s why, in today’s candidate-driven environment, it is critical to hang on to your best legal talent as long as you can. Bright, driven employees are a credit to your organization, contributing to a higher-quality work product and greater productivity. And the longer someone stays with your company, the more valuable they become in terms of knowledge, experience and relationships with your clients and other employees.

On the flip side, employee attrition is expensive. It costs significant time and money to recruit, hire and retain lost talent—as much as 33% of a worker’s annual salary to hire their replacement, according to a 2017 Work Institute Retention Report. And when you’re down an attorney, chances are you’ll have to utilize outside counsel, which increases spend and potentially slows response time. Turnover also affects the performance of your organization. When employees quit, those left behind may have to shoulder the burden of their duties. This can lead to disgruntled employees and a lull in productivity.

Given today’s low unemployment rate, legal departments would be wise to make talent retention a major priority. The good news is that if you’re proactive, you will have some degree of control over employee retention by focusing on the following proven retention strategies.

Comprehensive, Ongoing Training. The importance of proper training for your new and existing employees can’t be underestimated. Professional development helps build loyalty and trust with employees by showing that you’re willing to invest in their success. Training also helps ensure your employees are equipped to do the work you want them to do and achieve the goals you’ve set.

Training isn’t just a “one and done” effort. It should take place at the start of an employee’s tenure and be ongoing, tailored to fit the worker’s changing roles and responsibilities. When onboarding a new hire, be sure that training focuses on educating that individual about your organization’s mission and, more importantly, culture. When someone feels like they’re an integral part of your company’s overarching strategy, they’re more likely to be committed to its success.

Supervision and Feedback. Providing hands-on guidance and open and constructive feedback will benefit both employees and your organization as a whole. For their part, employees like knowing where they stand so there are no surprises at review time. Feedback also helps them sharpen their skills and become a more valuable contributor to the organization. For you as an employer, providing constructive criticism can help strengthen your workforce performance and improve productivity. Just remember, feedback should be given formally (annual performance evaluations) and informally during the course of projects—not just at year’s end. And supervisors should be trained on how to effectively supervise and communicate issues. Employees who feel they are fairly treated are more likely to stay.

Workplace Mentoring. Mentoring can take the form of a structured program or it can happen organically throughout the course of each workday. Ideally, you’ll utilize both approaches. While some employees are happy to have a mentor to guide them, others are more resistant—so having a formal process in place can be helpful.

One thing to consider when pairing up employees is whether or not the mentor will serve in a supervisory role. Often, interactions in a mentorship are more open, authentic and valuable when the mentor is not a direct supervisor of the mentee.

Transparency. Being open and honest with your employees boosts credibility, builds trust and confidence in your senior leadership, and increases employee engagement. A transparent culture is built from management on down. Regular communication is a must; your employees must understand what’s expected of them and where they fit into the organization’s big picture. They want to know when company-wide goals are met—and when they’re not. Being open about mistakes that have been made and challenges your firm or company is facing can help your team learn and grow.

Transparency is also empowering to employees who want their voices to be heard. Your people should be given the means (via a well-communicated process) to express their opinions and get their questions answered. This could take the form of an employee suggestion box, employee engagement surveys, or an “open door” policy where honest feedback is encouraged.

Opportunities for Growth and Advancement. Starting with the interview process, your employees should be able to envision a clear path for upward mobility at your firm or organization. People have a greater tendency to stay on if they feel they have forward momentum. Be sure that your employees are feeling challenged in their everyday work. They should be exposed to a broad variety of experiences in order to expand their skill set. Provide your employees with plenty of chances to interact with internal and external clients. This makes them feel more valued and part of the team.

Seeing their colleagues being promoted will also help reinforce their confidence, since it shows you’re committed to helping your employees grow and succeed. It’s important to keep in mind that opportunities for advancement don’t have to be limited to the legal department. A legal employee could move to the business side or into compliance if it’s a separate function.

Alternative Work Arrangements. Modern employees prize work-life balance. They desire the flexibility to juggle work with personal commitments and time to recharge their batteries. And in today’s always-on, always-connected age, these younger employees want to spend less time commuting back and forth to work.

Offering alternative work arrangements can go a long way in helping your people feel more balanced. These alternatives might include the option to telecommute on some days or work a non-traditional schedule. This shows you trust your employees to get their work done and understand and value their lives outside of the office. In turn, these options can help reduce stress levels, making your people more productive in the office and when they’re telecommuting from home.

Employee retention is a worthwhile investment. According to the Work Institute’s 2018 Retention Report, there’s been an astounding 141% growth in open jobs since 2009. Skilled, dedicated legal professionals are a hot commodity—and once you find them, you want to do everything you can to ensure they stay. Having solid strategies in place for employee retention can help you keep top talent, reduce the costs associated with turnover, and stay competitive in a challenging legal environment.

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