In recent years, both law firms and corporate legal departments have learned how to respond to tough times. Now it’s equally important to dedicate time to preparing for improving conditions, especially when it comes to retaining top performers.
Signs point to a rejuvenating legal field. The vast majority (81 percent) of lawyers recently surveyed for our quarterly Robert Half Legal Hiring Index said they are either somewhat or very confident in their organizations’ ability to expand in the second quarter of this year. In addition, 29 percent of respondents said they plan to add legal staff over the same period and none plan reductions in personnel.
As firms navigate through an improving economy, retention is a natural priority. To ensure you hang onto valuable employees who helped your firm pull through the recession, consider these tips from a new Robert Half report, 20 Ideas for Small Businesses.
How to Make Them Want to Stay
Especially for smaller legal organizations, the departure of even a single tenured employee can leave a gaping hole in experience and knowledge. Advanced skill sets and deep organizational and client knowledge are difficult to replace. The loss of a key team member – whether on the legal or administrative side – also has the potential to jeopardize existing client relationships, as well as growth plans.
With this in mind, here are some suggestions for retaining and re-energizing your best people at a time when they may be tempted by other opportunities:
Remain competitive with salary and benefits. With an improving job market, legal professionals with in-demand expertise are looking for the best situation they can find, especially after seeing modest or dwindling rewards in recent years. If your organization fails to offer a competitive salary and attractive benefits, not only may you face retention challenges, you’ll be less appealing to new hires you’re attempting to make.
To attract and retain the most skilled professionals, stay up to date on what other law firms in your area are paying. Each year, Robert Half Legal publishes a Salary Guide with average starting salaries for a variety of legal positions. In addition, our Salary Center features our latest research findings and a salary calculator. By regularly consulting this and other industry resources, you can ensure the compensation you offer is consistent with market trends. If you can afford it, even consider offering slightly more than the going rate or, once you get to interviews, a bit more than what the applicant asks for. That way a new employee will feel valued and committed from day one.
Scale back on unrealistic workloads. Staff members who have taken on extra responsibilities during the recession are good candidates for burnout. If you’ve pushed your people close to the breaking point in recent months, now is the time to get serious about providing relief. Consider bringing in legal project professionals who can help your staff clear any backlogs and catch up on current workloads without having to continue to work at a frenetic pace or put in unusually long hours.
Consider non-cash rewards too. Although many employees expect to see higher salaries, bonuses and other financial rewards now that the worst of the recession seems to be behind us, cash is not the only way to thank valued employees for their continued commitment and hard work. If budgets remain tight, there are other inexpensive ways to acknowledge the contributions of top performers. You might offer them a promotion or title change, the opportunity to take on new challenges or offer them greater flexibility with their schedules or through telecommuting. And don’t underestimate the power of praise. If you can’t remember the last time you expressed your appreciation to staff, it’s been too long. Take a “surprise and delight” approach and offer recognition through low-cost options like personal thank-you notes, afternoons off, lunches out or tickets to a special event.
Whether the economy is improving or contracting, having the right people and the right level of resources in place is a key success factor. By taking actions now to retain valued employees, your firm will be ready to capitalize on new opportunities that come your way.
“20 Ideas for Small Businesses,” is the newest addition to the Robert Half Small Business Series.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.