Bar News - May 5, 2006
Law Practice Management: Is Your Firm Doing Enough to Integrate Associates?
By: Paula A. Patton
By and large, new associates are welcomed, introduced, guided through essential paperwork, issued passwords and keys, toured, given their first assignments and then expected to begin work immediately. Perhaps like many organizations that follow the pattern above, your firm’s associate integration program, while well intended, may not adequately take into account the ongoing competition for talent, the size and complexity of your organization, strategic growth goals of your firm, and the unique style preferences and needs of new generations of lawyers. There may be many loose ends in the process of assimilating new legal talent into the organization.
Long term gains can be realized from an intentional, systematic, ongoing effort to integrate new lawyers into the organization. Integration continuums that sustain the on-going assimilation of associates are highly effective in supporting productivity and satisfaction. However, they are enormously under-utilized in an era when developing and retaining legal talent is a bottom-line business imperative. To diagnose the state of your organization’s integration effort, answer a few simple questions candidly:
1) Does your firm currently have an identified integration program for new associates that goes beyond orientation?
Associates who begin their tenure in the firm without an in-depth understanding of the firm’s leadership, its culture and traditions, strategic direction, and most important, who lack insights into how their expertise and skills complement and fit into the firm, office, practice group and client team may not have a clear understanding regarding their stake in the organization or its future, and they may not stay at your firm.
2) Does the firm’s current integration effort produce defined, measurable results that are of direct benefit to the firm and its associates?
The best integration programs are effective in retaining talented associates who have opportunities elsewhere, sustaining and transmitting the firm’s culture and values, and supporting associate growth and development. These outcomes can be observed and measured.
3) Have exit interviews revealed that associates have decided to leave the firm because they “just never felt that they were part of the organization?”
Given the opportunity, many departing associates will talk about their assimilation into the social and cultural elements of the firm and discuss aspects of that process that from their perception, have been deficient. People like to work among those with whom they have close relationships, common interests and acceptance. Associates who leave because these qualities are missing for them can provide invaluable insights.
4) Has the firm given significant time, attention and resources to re-thinking and revising its integration processes in the past two or three years?
The world has changed in recent years and so have the needs of associates. Rethinking how associates want to be assimilated into the firm is an essential rite that can preclude significant concerns later.
5) Is there a sense of excitement or pride among senior associates about the opportunity to welcome and assimilate new associates into the firm?
When people are proud of their organizations, they naturally want others to join them in the pursuit of its mission and goals. If associates or partners are reticent in promoting the firm and encouraging new associates to join the rank, this is a sure sign that they do not feel pride in the organization and perhaps, do not feel that they are a part of what makes the organization great.
6) If your firm has multiple offices, does the firm ensure that all associates, especially those outside of the home office, feel a part of the organization as a whole?
Excessive parochialism and/or elitism within or among a firm’s offices or departments is a clear sign that the firm lacks the cohesiveness that occurs naturally as a result of an effective integration program.
7) Is there someone at your organization, other than an associate’s supervisor, who can address an associate’s concerns or dissatisfaction?
Sometimes the best person to address an associate’s issues is not the person that he or she works for. Associate satisfaction and retention are directly related to how he or she feels about the job and the employer. Associates need someone to take their concerns seriously.
If you were not able to answer “Yes!” to questions 1 through 7, then it is time to go to work on an effort to re-think, re-engineer, and re-invent the firm’s associate orientation and integration program. Loyalty by Design, A Practical Guide for Developing an Effective Associate Integration Program, is an essential resource for all firms. Published during the summer of 2005, the handbook is available through the bookstore online ordering service at www.nalpfoundation.org.
Paula A. Patton is CEO/President, NALP Foundation