Just Shoot ‘Em Straight: Why Transparency Is Still Important to Associates

The word transparency gets tossed around often when it comes to what employees want more of from management. In law firms, associates often feel they are left in the dark only to hear about decisions well after the fact or processes long after they have missed an opportunity. This isn’t a new issue, but with recent layoffs in numerous firms, associates are questioning more than ever what they are being told.

Our 2023 Law Firm Culture Survey proved the importance of this as respondents ranked transparency, or the lack of it, in compensation and important decisions as second place among traits that inspire negative feelings about one’s firm. In the survey a year earlier, transparency ranked 10th, showing that now more than ever, lawyers care about communication and information sharing.

Firms have an opportunity to improve their internal culture and retain their lawyers longer by simply being more upfront. That’s not to say every detail of every management-level conversation needs to be shared, but an honest and clear-cut narrative needs to be told around the firm’s facts and figures and objectives for the future- think of the associates as companies view their stockholders, and give them a similar level of openness. Successful firms will focus on being transparent about these areas.

No. 1: Compensation

While associate salaries at law firms following the Cravath scale are widely publicized, not all firms follow suit or use the same compensation models. Be clear about how much associates are paid, what annual raises look like and how bonuses are earned. If you have billable hour requirements tied to salary increases and bonus payouts, make those known from the start of the year—and don’t make them a moving target. Associates want clear expectations and goals to reach.

No. 2: Advancement

Associates want to understand what it takes to make partner even as early as their first year at the firm. Provide specific steps for getting there—for example, can you make partner as part timer?—and be honest about the associate’s progress toward partnership. If partnership is not their goal, then they want to know if there are opportunities or is support available to help them follow that alternative path. Are there chances to be placed with law firm clients in an in-house role? Are there options for secondment, which can help associates find their own in-house jobs down the line? Be open and honest about what the firm can do for them and what is expected of them. Finding out only at review time that they are not meeting expectations is not helpful and won’t lead to retention.

Associates also want to access to interesting work. Let them know about opportunities in other offices or the potential to work with different partners. Wise, forward-thinking associates are going to take professional development opportunities wherever they exist so present them when they are available.

No. 3: Benefits

Associates desire work-life balance—by now, we all know this. Create clear policies and expectations so no question is left unanswered about what happens when life events collide with the professional. Can an associate take parental leave as a relatively new hire? Will taking long parental leaves for kids hurt their chance to advance? Let them know how being a parent or caregiver to the young or old will be viewed—and what your firm’s practices and expectations are.

Also, explain perks and incentives where they exist. Make the in-office requirements and what the rules around working remotely clear.

No. 4: Firm Priorities

Whatever is going on in the firm that may impact the future for your associates, they want to know about it. Is the economy affecting workloads for a specific practice? If so, what does that mean for the associates? Can they retool or pick up matters elsewhere in the firm locally or globally? Is the firm planning a merger or acquisition? How will this impact them? Let them know the good, the bad and the ugly, within reason.

Being open about the areas that concern associates most will promote trust within the firm. That trust can turn into loyalty and lead to associate satisfaction. The more satisfied your associates are, the longer they will stay and the better work they will produce. Put another way: transparency leads to happier associates, which leads to better work product, which leads to happier clients—this is what I would call a win-win..

The post Just Shoot ‘Em Straight: Why Transparency Is Still Important to Associates appeared first on Attorney at Law Magazine.

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