Managing attorneys: Read this to improve employee retention
Perspective by Mara Siegel, Legal Intake Training Manager at EverSpark
Table of Contents
- Proper Training and Onboarding
- Upward Mobility and Professional Development
- Wrapping Up
Over the years I’ve worked with some amazing people in the legal field.
The hardworking attorneys, clever paralegals, and passionate administrative staff at my first job welcomed me into a traditionally intimidating field with open arms.
Despite it all, I saw a trend unfolding in front of me–intake specialists were leaving left and right, as if going through a revolving door.
The longer I’ve worked in the legal world, the more I noticed this trend across the board.
So, I started to research.
I wanted to understand why the lifespan of an intake specialist was so short compared to other law firm employees. I wanted to figure out how to fix whatever underlying issue was causing high overturn for intake specialists.
In my research, I found numerous studies reporting high turnover rates for attorneys, statistics about firm culture, and compensation guidelines.
One such study reported that the most commonly reported issue law firms are currently facing is staff retention, focusing on solutions for associate attorneys.
The same report noted that 45% of firms surveyed anticipated raising their budget for non-legal professionals in the next five years.
This is a great sign, as it shows that law firms are recognizing the need to invest in their non-legal staff development if they want to see growth in the future.
Data aside, my question remained the same: Why do administrative staff members, especially intake specialists, leave their law firms so often?
During my research, I was able to narrow down the reason to three main areas of concern:
- Lack of proper training and onboarding
- Lack of communication
- Lack of upward mobility and professional development.
Proper training and onboarding
Attorneys undergo years of schooling and continued education in order to maintain their licenses.
Non-legal staff, on the other hand, come from a variety of educational backgrounds. Whether it be customer service work or receptionist experience, it is not typical for intake specialists to have formal training in the legal field.
When bringing a new administrative person on to your team, it is vital that you provide proper onboarding materials and continued training to bring your staff up to speed.
Isabel Warner, a seasoned human resources professional in the legal field, stated in a 2022 interview that “not investing the time in training is a sure way to lose good employees.” I couldn’t agree more. Failure to intervene at the earliest stage of staff development is only setting your team up for disappointment.
Outside of reception, intake specialists are the first people potential clients really get a chance to speak with at a law firm. This conversation is critical to gathering information for attorneys, getting to know potential clients, and determining case value.
When left untrained or to their own devices, many intake specialists are unable to steer potential clients in the right direction during an intake call.
The specialist may also struggle to ask questions required by various departments to evaluate case viability due to their lack of training in each department’s operations.
This can lead to burnout, employee dissatisfaction, and low client sign up rates.
Clear onboarding and training systems for your non-legal staff help your firm run smoothly. One way to start this process is by auditing your current training process, documentation, and department specific operation guidelines.
If you don’t have time to do it yourself, fret not. EverSpark Interactive is happy to help you audit your current training protocol and create a new onboarding system for intake staff.
Hooray, a chance to work with me!
Communication is the foundation of a successful business. For law firms, this means effective phone and email policies implemented consistently across all departments.
Intake specialists and receptionists play a critical role in ensuring communication across all channels operates smoothly. You can only imagine the mounting frustration, then, that builds when communication breaks down.
Whether the intake professional is a veteran of the legal field or a novice fresh out of school, not receiving prompt answers to calls or emails regarding clientele can be disillusioning. Non-legal staff often lack the authority to make final decisions regarding new and existing clientele despite serving as the first point of contact between client and law firm.
When I spoke to intake specialists from a variety of law firms, they all reported this was a major issue at their law firm. When new clients called in inquiring about a potential case, the fall off between intake and attorneys reflected poorly on the law firm.
Each time this process played out, the more discouraged intake specialists felt in their job role. As administrative personnel at a law firm, feeling slighted or unimportant in the firm’s operations through poor communication can be a deal breaker when it comes down to staying in an intake specialist position.
Communicate your expectations
An additional aspect of communication that leads to unhappy employees is unclear job expectations. All non-legal staff should have an understanding of what falls under their role within the organization, and who they can turn to for guidance when tasks come down the line.
Administrative staff members are often expected to blur the lines between different job roles without notice or instructions.
Providing all staff members with job descriptions during onboarding and regularly reviewing work expectations is a simple and effective way to improve workplace satisfaction.
If a standalone project requires staff members to work outside of their job role, thorough steps and chains of command for the project should be established before assigning the work.
If you feel like your firm struggles with communication in one way or another, bringing in outside help to determine the root of your problem may be beneficial. EverSpark Interactive can help mediate between attorneys, staff, and management to improve your staff’s workplace satisfaction.
Upward mobility and professional development
When young attorneys sign on with a new law firm, the understanding is often that somewhere down the line, partner status may be obtained.
Tenure, work quality, and dedication to the law firm all factor into whether an associate will become a partner at some point in their career.
In the research I conducted when writing this blog, though, an increasing number of young attorneys were reporting that their intention was not to become a partner at their current firm for numerous reasons. Dissatisfaction with firm culture, compensation, and ethics all contribute to this figure.
For non-legal staff, a similar trend seemed to unfold. There is one major difference, though.
Whereas associate attorneys seem to maintain their agency when deciding to leave their job role, administrative staff seem to feel forced into moving firms or changing career paths entirely due to a lack of long term professional development opportunities in their current roles.
A lack of investment in your staff’s professional growth may save your firm money on the front end, but can have devastating consequences in the long run. It is equally important to spend time helping your staff, such as intake specialists, not just survive but thrive in their job roles.
An intake specialist may come into your firm and exceed the job expectations laid out at the time of hiring. But, things are stagnant. They don’t have any long term goals set up for them, and there are no benchmarks for them to meet in order to receive additional financial compensation or a promotion.
The intake specialist might even fear their job security during periods where call volume dips or attorneys are too busy to take on new clients.
As a leader in your business, it’s meaningful for you to take time to help staff members see a future for themselves with your firm.
Bringing staff in only to see them leave in an abbreviated timeframe is a financial burden for your firm as well as a time waster, especially if you have to start the hiring process all over again.
Attorneys and paralegals are required to take CLEs to maintain their licenses, so consider offering something similar to your non-legal staff as an incentive to stay with your firm.
Opportunities like the EverSpark Interactive legal intake training service are designed to do just that, and bring your staff’s work quality to the next level. We believe in providing intake specialists ample opportunity to learn about the legal world, grow in their job role, and develop into tenured employees dedicated to your firm.
Maybe I’m biased as a seasoned intake specialist when I say that non-legal staff are the unsung heroes of the legal world. When you develop a culture that encourages longevity and job satisfaction across the board, not just for attorneys and higher-ups, the entire organization will reap the rewards.
I hope you were able to garner some insight on staff retention at your law firm. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to reach out to me!
Legal Intake Training Manager at EverSpark Interactive