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Talk About Turnover

Many of us have grown immune to the daily layoff announcements. Still, we tend to forget that even before the economy tanked, law firms fired associates, many times for merit-based reasons rather than financial necessity. This advice column from The Washington Post reminded me that firms can still let people go when they're not up to snuff -- though the firm that's the subject of this piece presents an awfully extreme case.

The column responds to a letter from a manager at a small law firm who writes that despite the firm's best efforts, "inevitably, out of every 3 associates we hire, we end up parting with 2 of them within a year of hiring for performance reasons." Why the bad luck? The advice-seeker describes the pattern:

the associate is hired on, struggles with his hours for the first few months, then over a few more months develops problems maintaining a responsible level of contact with clients, next they struggle with deadlines, and finally when the partners and I are at wits end the associate pretty much stops working, stops billing, and becomes a professional liability. We've offered training and performance plans, we have regularly scheduled weekly meetings with the associates, and we're small so someone is always available for guidance. The folks that have lasted through and past a year are, admittedly, rock stars. We're looking at letting go an associate this week. Is firing people just the way it is? I absolutely hate it. And is it common to be fired? I worry about them, even when they've totally dropped the ball and should probably seek another line of work. And I keep wondering where I've screwed up?

In response, columnist Lily Garza advises the firm to spend more time during the screening process to ensure that the associates who are hired are those who are a fit for the firm, not just socially but also who have the competence to do the job.  Still, even with a good hiring decision, there's no guarantee that an associate will work out. Here, Garza advises the firm to offer more effective organized training programs and try to build mentor relationships with employees. Finally, Garza suggests that the firm elicit feedback from the associates who were let go and try to understand from their perspective why the job didn't work out.

All good advice, but unless the firm takes it, I'm sure that it's a place I'd ever want to work. Have you ever worked for a place like this? And to your knowledge, did it succeed in changing its ways?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 26, 2009 at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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