How to retain your star performers

Staff retention has been top of the legal HR agenda since time in memorial, and no matter what incentives are put in place people – good people – will always want to leave.

But in an age of increased competition between law firms, mergers and acquisitions becoming the norm rather than the exception, and practices becoming increasingly internationalised, what can be done to stem the flow of talent from one law firm to the next?

Understand why they want to leave in the first place

Although earning potential is one of the main reasons people cite for wanting to leave their current employer, it isn’t the main motivator. That accolade is shared by a number of other factors.

For instance, NQs quickly realise their value and will seek to use this to their advantage. They often cite wanting to join their graduation cohort at a City firm as a primary reason for leaving, followed by the allure of working on cases that are a little more sexy or having the opportunity for greater variation in their role.

Others, especially those working for regional and local law firms the capital, often equate smaller firms with smaller budgets that in turn many specialise in just a handful of niche practice areas. For some lawyers this can be viewed as limiting their exposure to other areas of law and they may feel that their career ambitions could be better met elsewhere.

Invest in their career development

It may seem an obvious thing to say, but investing in your people will see your people invest their careers with you. According to the Legal Week Intelligence Best Employers Report, opportunities for career development ranked on a par with quality and variety of work for 92% of legal practitioners.

Indeed, when you look at the retention rates for NQs (currently standing at 80% and relatively unchanged for eight years), having a clear career development stricture and evident opportunities for further progression are seen as having a significant impact on job satisfaction.

If you do provide training and development opportunities then promote them to your staff. By making your star performers (or those with the potential to become so) feel valued and demonstrating that you are prepared to invest in their future, the chances of them thinking of jumping ship are reduced.

Be flexible

We work in an industry that is time-poor and highly pressurised, but to hang on to your top performers you sometimes need to offer flexible benefits too. Law firms are increasingly recognising the business benefits to be gained by adopting flexible working practices.

Much of the technology we all use nowadays is primed to allow people to work remotely, with cloud computing, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) enable the extension of the workplace beyond the four walls of the office.

There are numerous benefits to flexible working for law firms. A report from the Department for Work and Pensions found that 65% of employers saw improved recruitment and retention levels after implementing a flexible working policy.

58% reported increased productivity, while 70% reported improved employee relations. So flexible working isn’t just good for retaining staff, it makes good business senses too.

Make sure you have an effective recruitment strategy

We’re former solicitors ourselves and we’ve hired staff in each of the law firms we worked for when we were still in practice. But a common theme running through many legal firms is the somewhat fragmented approach that is taken when it comes to recruitment.

We have seen instances of senior managers and HR teams failing to effectively fully communicate the exact requirements they have for a specific vacancy. Such vague briefs lead to inadequate job specs, which in turn can lead to poor hires; if the brief is not right, the process of attracting let alone hiring the right talent is made all the more difficult.

Not only that, even if they are able to attract applications, the interview process often exposes weaknesses in the firms understanding of the sort of person they need, rather than what they thought they needed.

The result is that the role goes unfilled for weeks or even months, not to mention the potential damage done to the firm’s reputation as an employer of choice.

Simply improving the lines of communication internally and clearly defining roles and expectations can improve a firm’s ability to recruit and retain top talent.



There are no guarantees that the person you have hired will remain working for you for the duration of their career. After all, if an employee thinks they can get a better deal elsewhere they may be tempted to move elsewhere, but the longer they stay the better.

Losing a star performer can be a costly exercise, both in terms of the loss in productivity and the associated costs of recruiting their replacement who will invariably need time to get up to speed in their new role.

While the above is by no means a definitive list of ways to increase your firm’s staff retention levels, they are in our experience the areas that can have the greatest influence in determining if your best people choose to stay or opt to go.