Associates

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For every 20 associates hired by law firms, 15 left, according to a study that collected information from more than 800 law firms.

The average rate of associate attrition was 18% in 2012 through 2018, according to the study, Keeping the Keepers IV. The study was conducted by the NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education and legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. It is available for purchase here.

The study defined the attrition rate as the number of departures for a calendar year divided by number of total associates employed on Jan. 1.

The average rate of minority attrition was 22%, compared to 17% for nonminorities. The average rate was 18% for females and 17% for males.

Overall, 54% of associate departures were “unwanted” from the law firm’s perspective, while 24% of the departures were “desired” by the law firm.

Lateral associates were more likely to leave law firms because of work quality than associates hired out of law school. Law firms cited “work quality standards not met” as the reason for 18% of lateral associate departures and 13% of associates first hired at the entry level.

The reasons most frequently cited by law firms for lateral associate departures were unmet work quality standards (18%), a career change to another type of legal job (16%), unmet productivity standards (12%), pursuit of specific practice interests (12%), getting hired by a firm client (11%), and a desire for a new geographic locale (9%).

The reasons most frequently cited by law firms for entry-level associate departures were pursuit of specific practice interests (17%), a career change to another type of legal job (16%), a desire for a new geographic locale (14%), unmet work quality standards (13%), getting hired by a firm client (10%), unmet productivity standards (9%), and better support for work-life balance (9%).

The results are based on information supplied by 837 law firms of various sizes and geographic locations from 2012 through 2018. During that period, law firms participating in the survey hired more than 27,000 associates and saw more than 20,000 associate departures.

In that period, firms hired on average eight female associates for every 10 male associates. A total of 25% of the associates hired were minorities. Lateral hiring outpaced entry-level hiring, a departure from previous surveys.