Many law firms hire attorneys who are not going to be around forever.
Attorneys who do not plan on sticking around are problematic because they are never fully committed. If an attorney is not fully committed, they will never be happy working for you because they will always look for better opportunities—or be interested in doing something else entirely. Attorneys with these sorts of agendas may only be after a paycheck and can fast-talk their way into getting hired, but they are hopeless hires for the most part. Hiring noncommitted attorneys who will not stick around is a consistent problem for most law firms.
Business Reasons Law Firms Should Avoid Hiring Noncommitted Attorneys
Noncommitted attorneys will leave when things become difficult in their job.
I once hired a very talented attorney to work in a small law firm running in Malibu to service my companies. Ostensibly, the attorney was seeking a new position because she did not like driving to downtown Los Angeles for work every day – which is a good reason for working locally. Despite that, she said she was on the verge of becoming a partner, liked her work, but preferred to work locally. She did not seem concerned with compensation and accepted a position paying around 25% less than she was making in a large law firm. Her work seemed excellent for several months, but after a particularly stressful deposition, she gave notice the next day that she was quitting. Her reasons for leaving were stress, a desire to start a family, and a general lack of interest in practicing law.
I made a mistake hiring this attorney because she ran away from hard work and responsibility, and I expected that. The moment my position became too challenging, she left. She was not committed enough to her former job to make partner. She cared less about her career and more about reducing her stress and responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with this, and I should have understood this initially, but I made this hiring mistake.
If an attorney is suited to working long term, they will endure ups and downs wherever they go.
They will not come up with excuses to leave whenever the work is not going how they want it to go. They will stick around and endure the ups and downs of the job.
One of the biggest mistakes I have made is hiring people back after they quit working for me. Many of these attorneys quit because they could not stand a particular aspect of their jobs—the workload was too much in one area or not enough in another.
I once had a human resources guy leave our company after a particularly stressful office move that was a lot of work for him. According to him, the job was too stressful, and he cited various reasons for feeling that way. Despite this, I urged him to stay, and he came back to me and said he wanted to stay. In a few months, the company grew rapidly, so his job became even more stressful, and he left. This time, I let him. He wanted a less stressful position, and he ended up working in a quiet, easygoing job for a government office. He did not want to commit to a private company with serious demands.
Every attorney has various “boiling points” that upset them and cause them to leave if they are not committed. When an attorney is looking for a new position, you can ask them why they are looking, and if these reasons involve issues that are likely to occur in all firms or occur with you from time to time, they are likely not going to be the best hires.
Lawyers I work with all the time want to leave their firms because they heard bad news about their firms and brands in the market. It happens this way consistently—you never know when a law firm will get bad press. These attorneys are not committed.
Others leave their law firm when they do not get the review they want.
A law firm should not feel threatened that people will leave if the hours get too demanding, if there is a piece of bad news about them, or if they give an attorney a less-than-stellar review.
Noncommitted attorneys cost your clients money when they leave because you need to hire replacements to get up to speed on the matters you are working with.
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Noncommitted attorneys cost you money because they take time to replace, and work does not get done in the interim.
Noncommitted attorneys undermine the morale of other attorneys around them both before and after they leave.
Undermined attorneys cost you money.
While practicing law, there were always attorneys who would stop by my office daily and gossip about what was wrong with the firm. They would talk about how they would do something different, work somewhere else, and similar things. As a result, I had doubts that I had made the right choice with my career and was unhappy.
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It costs attorney time to replace noncommitted attorneys when they leave.
Some law firms will interview numerous people when replacing a departing attorney. Usually, this takes several weeks.
Noncommitted attorneys will not invest in learning to become better.
Lawyers committed to their profession constantly strive to improve, eager to learn how to be better lawyers. Noncommitted attorneys tend not to be concerned since they would rather be performing other work.
They will not try to bring in clients and do other things to advance.
Noncommitted attorneys will not try to perform at the highest level.
If attorneys are not concerned about their performance compared to other lawyers, the quality of the service supplied usually decreases, they bill fewer hours, and the service clients receive decreases. Attorneys unwilling to give a lot of themselves and try as hard as possible cost you money.
They will spend their days looking for other opportunities and investigating them.
If the attorney is not committed to your firm, they will often take your clients and attorneys to another firm.
Uncommitted will often be looking for ways to make a quick buck at your expense—usually by making up perceived transgressions to threaten you with legal action (or even take it).
Throughout my career, I have seen countless attorneys and others who were not committed to the practice of law manufacture disputes with their employers so they may get out of work — and get high-paying salaries. I have seen this often enough that it is essential to mention certain people you may encounter and want to hire who are looking for trouble, and if you hire them, you may get sued. There are people like this in the market, and if they are not concerned about practicing law firm for an extended period, they may go after you.
- I once knew a female attorney who became addicted to crystal meth while working at a large law firm. She had an Ivy League pedigree. Because her habit was incompatible with working full time in a law firm, she (essentially) fabricated a story about a partner making a pass on her to extract a six-figure settlement from the firm. I found out that none of this was true because one of her friends was concerned enough about this behavior that she even contacted the firm to tell them it was all made up.
- I once had a warehouse with no cameras in it. Before installing cameras, I had probably one person every two months sue me for made-up injuries, which happened for over a year. After the cameras were installed, this all stopped.
- I once was representing a heterosexual man searching for a position who got fired for insubordination. To get back at the employer, he made up a story about doing something illegal. Then, when he got even angrier at the employer, he modified his complaint and added that his male heterosexual boss had also fired him because he refused to have sex with him. None of this was true. I stopped working with this attorney after learning this, but it was undoubtedly a warning to me about the types of people out there.
There are countless people out there looking for trouble who are not committed.
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Signs That Indicate an Attorney is Likely to Stick Around for the Long Term
The attorney has significant commitments such as a spouse, home, or children.
Considering this, law firms typically encourage attorneys to get married and settle down as this stability helps the firm. An attorney without other marketable skills is more likely to stick around, too.
Their resume indicates that all they want to do is the sort of work they do.
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The attorney is active in getting business and doing other things to build their brand in the marketplace.
The attorney looks committed to your practice setting.
It is the same with taking public interest jobs, teaching, and many types of government work. Once an attorney switches practice settings like this, they rarely stick around if a law firm hires them again.
There will also be a pattern to the types of lawyers likely to transition to in-house or other practice settings later. Their excitement about working in a law firm, how they talk about it, what they are doing (are they trying to bring in new business), who they work with, and so forth, all indicate the commitment they might have in a law firm environment.
Here are some other articles you may find useful:
- How to Understand Your Personality and What Practice Area, Type Firm, or Practice Setting You Should be Working in by Using DISC Profiles
- Law Firms Care More about Whether You Will Be Happy Working there Than Your Qualifications
- The 'Dark Side' of Going In-house
- Is an In-House Job Right for You? Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions About In-House Careers
Your market is smaller, or you operate in a niche practice area without many similar opportunities for this sort of attorney.
I recently worked with a private equity attorney who was relocating from a significant market and law firm to Detroit. His wife was from Detroit and wanted to move back there.
Due to his skills and abilities, there was only one law firm in the whole city that was a good fit for his expertise. Because the law firm that hired him was the only one doing the work he did at that level, they did not have serious concerns about leaving.
If you are the “only game in town” for your practice area, then the attorney is more likely to stick around if you hire them. Many practice areas lend themselves to only a few specialists and are not large enough to support more. Also, many firms do specialized work with very few competitors.
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If the attorney is moving up to be in your firm and is unlikely to get a position in a better firm than yours.
The attorney has employment stability in previous positions.
The attorney speaks enthusiastically about their work and the people they are working with, and matters they have worked on.
Attorneys who are particularly good at their jobs and likely to stick around also admire various people they work with. Working with the best attorneys in their practice area is what they look for, and they are excited to work on essential matters.
The attorney likely to stick around often has transaction and other sheets demonstrating the work they did in prior positions.
Signs that Indicate Attorney Will Not Stick Around for the Long Term
The attorney has had several jobs, none lasting too long.
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- Practicing Entertainment Law: Exposing the Truth Behind the Glamour Myth
The attorney does not look committed to their practice area.
One of the most visible indicators that an attorney is not likely to stick around is when you see many items on their resume that show they are likely interested in doing something else.
For example, in Los Angeles, I see resumes all the time where attorneys have done things like:
- Been on entertainment law journals in law school.
- Been in entertainment law clubs in law school.
- Done internships in law school with entertainment-related companies.
- Now doing general commercial litigation with a large law firm.
These attorneys rarely give up on their dream of doing entertainment law and almost always go back to trying to do this eventually. They will keep applying to entertainment law-related positions until they get one. For whatever reason, they must do this. These are typically not good hires and will almost always leave eventually.
The attorney does not look committed to your practice setting.
The attorney does not have a geographic commitment to where you are.
The likelihood of leaving is high for lawyers relocating to smaller markets, where they may have fewer connections. These lawyers might find their area lacking culturally, in terms of dating opportunities, sports teams, restaurants, client size, and more. It is very risky for law firms to hire attorneys without many connections in smaller markets.
Smaller markets tend to limit attorneys with diverse backgrounds because it is hard to meet attorneys with similar backgrounds. A persistent complaint in the market is that there is little diversity, leading many African American lawyers to seek out and work around fellow black professionals. In many cases, they prefer markets with more diversity, like Atlanta, Washington, DC, and others. Attorneys want to work around people whom they feel comfortable with and who may have shared their struggles and other commonalities.
Furthermore, lawyers who have long-standing connections in smaller markets seldom stay in larger ones. If an attorney has a large, extended family in a market like Salt Lake City, they might return after a few years of working in a large market—and often do. Attorneys want to be near family, support networks, and people who will look out for them. When an attorney has a family, such a desire is often more potent.
A good hire will be a native of the area where your firm is located and has family members living there. They stay longer, are more committed, and rarely leave.
Here are some additional related articles:
- Why Relocating to Another Area of the Country is a Good Career Strategy for Attorneys
- Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion for Law Firms
If the attorney is independently wealthy or has a spouse (or other family members) capable of supporting them at the level they want to be kept.
The attorney has an entrepreneurial background.
The attorney seems to not have any obligations whatsoever (family, home, and other expenses).
The attorney has run a solo practice.
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The attorney has several periods of unemployment on their resume.
The attorney seems very focused on money and other short-term rewards.
The attorney may be trying to switch practice areas.
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The attorney is inflexible with their time.
The attorney is moving down and not up in terms of the firm.
The attorney is trying to get experience outside of their primary practice area.
The attorney is coming to you because they are running from something, or something bad happened in the attorney’s recent past.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
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