There is a lot of focus on recruiting as a challenge in law firms today, and it is. It is a challenge to stay competitive with associates having basically a “right of way” to go wherever they want.
But the real question is what are you doing to actually retain the people you currently have, as well as the people you hope to recruit? How do you keep people from leaving? How do you make your firm a place where associates want to go — and stay?
Often the answer is feedback, yet the hesitancy to give it and the ineffective delivery of it is causing more harm than good. Giving feedback to lawyers is a leadership competency that you must develop, or you will continue to have attrition.
THE PROBLEMS WITH HOW LAW FIRMS GIVE FEEDBACK
Your feedback is non-existent
There are various reasons why many are hesitant to give feedback to lawyers, one of the highest among them is fear of saying something wrong or offensive. But not giving any feedback can be even more detrimental to an associate’s progress. Feedback is valuable – when given right.
Your feedback is by request only
Many feel that it is the responsibility of the associate to reach out for feedback. However, this common opinion does not take into consideration the cross-cultural challenges involved. If retention of diverse attorneys is your goal, you need to be more flexible and be ready for an appropriate opportunity to give feedback to help associates learn and grow.
Your feedback is inconsistent
An important question you need to ask yourself is how you handle mistakes made by associates. Do you write off one associate who makes a mistake and vow to never give them work again, yet give others another chance? When you are inconsistent in how you give feedback and to whom, that is a sign of trouble and should be reflected upon and corrected, if necessary.
HOW TO GIVE BETTER FEEDBACK
Consistent constructive feedback is crucial for associates to thrive at your firm. However, this will not happen unless you make it a priority. Here are five strategies to help you give feedback to associates.
1. Commit to making the time
Commit to putting a hold on your calendar twice a week to dedicate time to think about assignments that have come through and to jot down notes about what did and didn’t go well and what you can change to help with the conversation. If you can, incorporate early morning standing office hours that associates can use for asking questions or receiving feedback.
2. Make connections
Don’t just talk business, get to know people. Especially now, people need to know they are cared for and that others are aware of the struggles they are facing. The more associates feel that you care about them personally, the more likely they are to either come to you for feedback, or accept genuine feedback when it is given.
3. Ask for help
Ask the firm for the training and individual coaching you need. This may include unconscious bias, inclusive leadership, and allyship training. Your commitment to helping associates thrive at the firm, as well as your desire to grow in these important leadership competencies will be appreciated and noted.
4. Understand you will make mistakes and keep going
No one is perfect. You WILL make mistakes. What you learn and do after making mistakes is what is important. The sooner you understand missteps will happen, the sooner you can push yourself and the firm forward.
5. Be willing to take risks
The risk of not giving feedback is the same or higher than giving feedback wrong because associates who are not developed leave. Remember what the ultimate goal is: to help associates feel valued and thrive. When you are willing to take risks and do something that scares you in order to help others (and the firm) succeed, you will see it as well worth any fear of saying something wrong.
WHY FIXING YOUR FEEDBACK IS VALUABLE TO YOUR LAW FIRM
Associates who are cared for and developed thoughtfully, with consistent and constructive feedback to grow their professional development and practice, respond to the investment. It often increases the likelihood of their staying within the firm. At a time when associate attrition is so high, it is imperative that feedback be a part of your retention strategy for associates.
Another challenge that is occurring amongst law firms is that where previously the name and overarching brand of the law firm would be enough to ensure that associates would come directly from a law school or be recruited laterally, now there’s the added “Yelp”-like feedback structures that exist to provide potential candidates with more information. This can include websites or resources like Glassdoor, or less structured ad-hoc opportunities for associates to collect data from their networks to find out about culture, support and specific experiences, which is more common now and much more robust than before 2020.
Reputation and recruiting go hand in hand. There are many more law firm recruiters who are reticent to recommend that associates of color, women, and others from marginalized groups consider spaces in which they know the focus on inclusion and the strategy for retention through increased feedback, sponsorship and other strategies that will help to advance DEI are not happening. In addition to general recruiting from law school or job postings, recruiters are being much more thoughtful, because placing people at law firms that don’t have a commitment to DEI and support associates in a very thoughtful and constructive way will also impact their own reputation.
When you add together retention, recruiting, and reputation, along with business development, the result will be more revenue. Clients are growing more vocal and insistent on having work done well, with teams that are diverse, and the assurance that underrepresented groups are given the opportunity to flourish within the law firms with whom they do business. If you don’t take an individual focus and strategy now, along with a comprehensive law firm strategy for giving feedback to associates, it will impact your potential revenue, whether through attrition, loss of business, or both.
For all of these reasons, it is imperative for you to continue to develop this skill set, by giving consistent and thoughtful feedback as a part of your leadership and law firm strategy.