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Best Practice: Retaining valued associate attorneys – conducting exit interviews

Asked and Answered

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

Q. We have a 14-attorney law firm in San Diego. We handle business transactions and litigation for business firms in the area. I am on the firm’s three-member executive committee. We have been experiencing associate attorney turnover for the past two years and don’t know whether it is due to more opportunities in the job market as the economy has improved or problems at our firm. We appreciate your thoughts.

A. I suggest that in the future you conduct structured face-to-face exit interviews when associates resign. You may want to even interview associates by phone that have recently resigned and left the firm. Exit interviews can let you find out how to retain your valued associates. Departing lawyers that are willing to be open can provide valuable feedback and information as to how your firm is viewed by your associates, why your associates are leaving, and what the firm can do to resolve issues and improve retention.

I suggest that you conduct either face-to-face or telephone interviews or, as a last resort, written confidential voluntary questionnaire. Questions might include:

  1. What influenced your decision to join the firm?

  2. Has the firm met your expectations? Describe.

  3. Were your work assignments aligned with your personal and professional goals and interests?

  4. Did you find your work assignments interesting and challenging?

  5. Did particular individuals have a substantial impact on the quality of your experience here? How did they affect your experience?

  6. Did you receive timely and quality feedback regarding your performance?

  7. What experiences did you find the most positive?

  8. What were least positive?

  9. Is there anything that the firm could have done to improve your experience here?

  10. Were you satisfied with your compensation and benefits?

  11. Why did you decide to leave the firm?

  12. What factors influenced your choice of a new firm?

  13. What other issues or recommendations can you share with the firm.

After you have solicited feedback via exit interviews it is critical that you look into any issues reported, determine whether there is merit, and take appropriate actions that can be taken to resolve issues and improve retention.

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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 March 22, 2017 by Mark S. Mathewson