Retaining The ‘Lost Generation’

The “Lost Generation” are those associates in large firms who are running for their lives in alarming, and growing, numbers. Why they leave is an easy question to answer: They’re given mostly drudge work, they face unceasing pressure to produce and they’re kept in the dark about firm finances and the broader strategies behind the matters they handle.

Former General Electric general counsel Ben Heineman Jr. and Harvard University law professor David Wilkins write in this article in Corporate Counsel Magazine that it doesn’t have to be this way (duh) and offer some interesting suggestions to help stem the tide:

  • Law firms can charge corporations reduced rates for new associates to work on important matters.
  • Law firms should send associates to important meetings and legal proceedings so they can observe what is happening, without billing for their time.
  • Law firms can send associates with at least a year of experience to corporations to work and learn for a year. Corporations could pay the costs, but not the profit margin, for the employee.
  • Law firms can send associates to public sector agencies for two to three years, paying their salaries and promising them a job on their return.
  • Law firms should expand pro bono programs to give young lawyers more experience.
  • Law firms should focus on professional development, using training materials, exposure to legal experiences, measurable milestones and feedback sessions.
  • Partners need to create time for more communication with associates.
  • As an associate struggling with those same hardships myself, I can say the last one is by far the most important. And a little communication, if consistent in both content and frequency, goes a long way. A long way.

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