Talent Retention: A Big Conundrum

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By Bithika Anand | Nov 25, 2016

With the rise of the new East, emerging economies of Asia are undergoing a tremendous transformation. With the continued inflow of foreign direct investment and major policy changes, businesses are flocking to capture the opportunities presented by increased customer base.

This is intensifying the competition for talent and leadership – a trend that is cutting across all sectors including legal.

With shorter career progressions (associates getting promoted to partnership in just six to seven years), expectations are growing higher. This coupled with unclear growth path for seniors – post becoming partners – is making it increasingly difficult for the mid-sized and small law firms to retain their performing assets (lawyers). The buoyant legal-talent market is just adding to it. All these factors are seriously affecting the competitiveness, sustainability and growth of the mid-sized and smaller law firms in India.

While almost every firm identifies retention as a major challenge for them, only a few have started addressing this issue. There is a huge gap in managing expectations and aligning them towards the interest of the firm.

Realizing this gap, some firms have started engaging professionals to coach their lawyers and partners in a bid to retain their talent pool by helping them realize their progression and role in the growth of the firm. However, the focus is more on pressing and tactical priorities – immediate talent retention – and much less on long-term solutions.

Pinpointing a problem is only the first step to finding solutions. Some firms have started taking steps including reduced-hour schedules, alternative work arrangements, mentorship programs, steering committees, etc.  However, most firms that have implemented such programmes feel that changing the firm’s culture has yielded better results than changing business models or billing requirements.

Respect, transparency, and a fair playing field are important in any organization. With lawyers increasingly having options to practice law in a way that fits into their lives (whether in a traditional firm or in an alternative practice model), it is all the more important to ensure that they feel valued and are appreciated for their contribution and good work.

Talent management and leadership development have been pretty low on the priority list of executive committees at law firms. With the Indian legal market going through an important phase (as the talks of liberalisation gain grounds every passing day), the key to growth will be managing the turbulent tides of talent scarcity, employee expectations and leadership shortage. Hence, more than ever before, law firms of all sizes need strong, guiding hands to steer them through rolling waves of change.