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Best Practice Tips: Lawyer Retention Incentives

Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am the administrator of a 16-lawyer firm in south Florida. There are six equity partners, two non-equity partners, and eight associates. The firm was formed nine years ago, and we have not lost any attorneys during this period of time. We believe that we have a positive culture and great lawyer retention. However, we would like to do more to ensure that lawyers stay with the firm and implement more incentives for them to do so. I would appreciate your thoughts.

A. Interviews with associates and partners in law firms conducted by our firm as well as other consulting firms suggest the following key factors and best practices concerning attorney retention:

1. Compensation – The firm must have a compensation system that is competitive, pays lawyers the market rate, and has the potential to pay above market rate.

2. Benefits – The firm must offer competitive benefits, especially medical insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and a 401k plan.

3. Work-life balance – This involves flexibility and control over one’s practice, work hours, and workplace, whether at the office or when working remotely.

4. Culture – Lawyers want to work in a culture that is supporting and encouraging. They want to work with peers and clients they respect. They want meaningful work.

5. Individual marketing plan for lawyers – Lawyers need help focusing their time on business development. Firms need to help lawyers market their services in ways that benefit the firm and the lawyer alike, but use non-billable time efficiently and effectively.

6. Growth opportunities – Lawyers need to perceive that the firm provides them with opportunities for growth in their work, type of clients, and progression to partnership. They want to know if there is a partnership track and specific details if there is a track.

7. Recognition – Lawyers join firms to receive prestige, opportunity, and clients. Junior lawyers want to maximize their options and get good training. Senior lawyers want profitable work. They want name recognition.

8. Environment – Many lawyers are not interested in working in a rigid environment. Casual dress policies and informal policies concerning how to address lawyers and staff in the firm can go a long way in creating a relaxed atmosphere.

9. Team spirit – Lawyers join firms to work cooperatively with others. Lawyers who want to work alone are solo practitioners.

10. Quality facilities – Don’t skimp on your facilities and systems. Invest in quality office facilities, furnishings, and office systems.  Use state-of-the-art technology. Many lawyers have left their firms and joined others because of antiquated technology.

11. Competent support staff – Failure to provide lawyers with competent support staff can be a major irritant and can cause lawyers to look at other firms.

Ensure that your compensation and benefits for your lawyers are competitive. While compensation and monetary benefits play a key role in lawyer retention, many of the other above factors play an important role as well. Many of the lawyers that I see changing firms are doing so for reasons other than compensation and benefits. In fact, some leave for less money when they feel they are undervalued and see more opportunity for growth and development in another firm. Some leave when they see the opportunity for equity in another firm.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, ( is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at

Posted on September 12, 2018 by Rhys Saunders
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