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Associate Attrition Rates are on the Upswing

  Law Firm News  -   POSTED: 2007/11/30 17:15

 With associate attrition rates on the upswing and young lawyers unwilling to sacrifice personal time, law firms are being forced to rethink the classic high-workload, partner-track model for associates or watch as valuable talent slips away.

Firms have found that the lure of a hefty paycheck in exchange for a rigorous schedule has lost some of its shine for associates, who have different views on what success represents and increasingly leave firms after a handful of years. The new paradigm presents a dilemma for law firms, which have for years relied on the assumption that money -- and the potential of making partner -- buys loyalty.

Local and national law firms have begun to tweak that model, looking for creative alternatives to retain associates who are expensive to hire, but even more expensive to replace.

In 2006, the associate attrition rate in the U.S. was 19 percent, the same percentage as the previous year, which was the highest rate documented by any prior study of attrition, according to the National Association for Law Placement Foundation in Overland Park, Kan. Broken down, larger firms experience even higher rates of attrition with firms larger than 500 reporting a range of 13 percent to 27 percent attrition, according to NALP.

Associates' salaries at large firms range from $160,000 to $285,000 with the possibility of bonuses of $25,000 to $50,000. Meanwhile some law firms peg the cost of replacing an associate at around $300,000.

"Obviously law firms are quite concerned that associates are bailing out left and right," said Paul Clifford, a principal at Law Practice Consultants LLC in Boston. "Firms are starting to wake up to this and are starting to get more creative."

Nationally, McDermott Will & Emery is in the process of hiring a new class of about 15 staff associates who will charge less per hour for lower-end work, make less money and not be on the partnership track, according to a story on Law.com. The lawyers hired will be those who are not interested in working 80-hour weeks. The move is designed to benefit clients, who will pay less for their services. A representative from McDermott Will & Emery said the firm did not wish to comment for this story.

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