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February 11, 2022

Tackling the Competitive Hiring Landscape: What New Associates Expect From Their Employers

The legal job market is more competitive than ever. According to Bloomberg Law, there was a 50% increase in associate hiring last year. On top of that, Bloomberg Law also found that nearly half of lawyers last year reported being open to new opportunities and that one in 10 lawyers was actively pursuing new job opportunities. With the legal market showing no signs of cooling down and lawyers no longer hesitant to make rapid changes in their careers, law firms need to adapt in order to retain their current employees and attract top talent. 

That’s why we’re sharing tips on what new associates are expecting from their employers so law firms can find better success when tackling today’s competitive hiring landscape. 

Catering to a New Generation of Lawyers

First, law firms should understand that they are addressing a new generation of layers. Millennials, people born in the 1980s or 1990s, have been the largest generation in the US’s workforce since 2016, making up 35% of today’s workforce in the country. As their numbers continue to rise—millennials are projected to represent 75% of the global workforce by 2025—it’s crucial for law firms to understand that the factors that motivated Gen X and Boomer partners are not the same ones that motivate millennials. Here are steps that law firms can implement in order to hire and retain top talent:

  • Prioritize work-life blend. Many new associates may feel like they have a never-ending list of tasks and need to work 60+ hours a week in order to be a successful lawyer. But creating a healthy work-life balance is vital to managing stress, which, when it spirals out of control, can wreak havoc on one’s job performance and productivity. 
  • Empower associates to make an immediate impact. Your bright new associates are eager to hit the ground running on day one, so help them out by implementing an effective associate training program.
  • Mentor your employees. New associates have traditionally gained practical skills from mentors at their law firms, but mentorship opportunities can feel scarce. Partners and more experienced lawyers should seize as many opportunities as possible in order to guide and impact the next generation of lawyers. 
  • Build a community. Millennials consistently value social aspects of work as one of the most important factors in their job satisfaction. Feeling engaged and supported by their peers and leaders is vital to not only their mental wellbeing but also their performance and productivity.
  • Imbue the power of doing good. In the midst of busy workdays, it can be easy for new associates to feel disconnected from the positive impact of their work. However, you can build them up by reminding them of what their work really means. Next time you need help with a case, try focusing on how they can help you help someone rather than, say, asking if they need the hours. 

Providing Flexible Work Options

With the pandemic, working remotely was vital to maintaining business continuity. However, many young attorneys actually want remote and in-office work options. The 2021 American Lawyer Summer Associate Survey found that most Big Law summers loved the few in-person opportunities they had and were frustrated by their remote experiences. 17% of their respondents said they would prefer to work fully in-person, just under 2% said they would prefer to work remotely full-time, and just over 80% reported they would prefer to work a hybrid schedule. 

So what exactly is driving these work preferences for younger attorneys? In a recent Law.com article, Nixon Peabody managing partner Stephen Zubiago shared, “A lot of them live in major cities and they live in small apartments. They’ve geared their life around living in a city and living in an office. Working alone 10 to 12 hours a day gets old really quick.” Kate Reder Sheikh, managing director in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s associate practice group, added, “I think people who don’t have a long commute, don’t have kids and want the camaraderie, want the happy hours and want what training they can get in person. Those people are going in.” Based on these varying individual needs, it’s important for law firms to clearly communicate work options and expectations. 

Outlining a Clear Pathway to Success

New associates expect basic benefits upon starting and with today’s hiring landscape, providing competitive salaries, benefits, and advancement opportunities are more commonly expected as well. By providing new associates with a clear benefits package and an outline for more, including the unique advantages that your firm can provide, can make a huge difference in engaging and retaining your new hires.

Performance expectations should also be clearly communicated to all new hires. This includes honestly discussing the corporate culture, which ideally should emphasize the importance of lawyer well-being, mentorship, community, and mission. The firm’s organizational structure should also be clear; millennials tend to favor flat hierarchies, which are organizational structures with few or no levels of middle management between partners and attorneys. In addition, if there are any preferred strategies for efficiency, communication, and collaboration, those should be explicitly communicated. And as touched upon in the previous section, new hires should also understand their opportunities for flexible work schedules as well as any expectations regarding where they need to work from and when. 

Providing Up-to-date Technology and Resources

Put simply, the most talented associates won’t be drawn to firms that use outdated technologies or resources. In a survey conducted by Microsoft and SurveyMonkey to find out what helped them “thrive in the workplace,” they found that 93% of millennials polled stated that modern and up-to-date technology was one of the most important aspects of a workplace. 

So what does that include? Technology and resources like video conferencing, document management, cloud technology, and remote access should be part of your daily operations. Newer associates should have the tools they need in order to perform the best.

Tackle Today’s Competitive Landscape

Firms such as K&L Gates, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Barnes & Thornburg, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, and Husch Blackwell turn to AltaClaro for the most effective training programs on the market.

Our online boot camps help lawyers leverage technology and learn practical legal skills in a hybrid format through mock transactions and live feedback sessions with seasoned practitioners. From Fundamentals of M&A Transactions and Corporate Transactions to Capital Markets, our course catalog spans beginner to intermediate level classes. Our state-of-the-art learning technology platform also helps you measure and track training engagement and performance so you can see exactly how your training is driving better results for your employees as well as your ROI.

Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experts and learn how you hire and retain top talent through more effective training engagement.


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About the author

Abdi Shayesteh

Founder & CEO of AltaClaro, an experiential learning platform that delivers researched-backed practical skills training solutions for lawyers. Serial entrepreneur, founded and successfully sold two startups prior to age 30. Over 15 years of experience as a corporate and banking attorney in diverse settings.