Another take on associate retention rates

Most of the news about associate retention is cast in negatives — quoting, for example, that 60-62% of entry-level associates will have left their firms by the end of their fourth year in practice.  What if changing jobs more frequently is simply a fact of modern life? Or the result of dual career couples, the consequence of frequent moves from one city to another, or an indication of refusal to settle for a career or lifestyle?

Although the thoughts don’t transfer entirely to law, Penelope Trunk, the Brazen Careerist, has an interesting post today titled  Make Life More Stable With Frequent Job Changes.  The thrust of the post is that most new employees today will change jobs every two years (that’s what I find difficult to apply to a legal practice), will start adult life by moving back into their parents’ homes, and “will say that money is not their number one concern in evaluating a job.”   Trunk argues that the old paths to stability no longer work and that job-hopping is the new way to be stable, which she defines as “knowing you have a life where you can do what you love, during your whole life, not just at the end.”

Trunk identifies 5 ways to use frequent job changes to build stability.  Whether you change jobs once or repeatedly, most of these are excellent suggestions:

1.  Build up a strong skill set quickly.

2.  Get good at making transitions.

3. Make the most of the in-between-jobs time.

4.  Get out of paying your dues.  (If you find a way to do this in law, forget practice and write up your methodology instead.  If it really works, you’ll be a prize-winning author.  I’ll remain skeptical.)

5.  Keep your finances in order.

Watch for upcoming posts that will wrestle with the question of whether it’s possible to find career stability — meaning, satisfaction, rewards in whatever metric(s) apply to you — without changing jobs so frequently.  Perhaps it will surprise no one that I think the answer is unreservedly, yes!

6 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Hi, Julie. You look at this issue from an interesting angle. I was surprised by the statistics at the beginning of the post, and I’m sure I will repeat them a lot 🙂

    One thing you might consider is the trend that young people are much more entrepreneurial than older people. I think this might apply to lawyers as well. Something to consider when thinking about staying in one position vs hopping if you’re a lawyer.

    A good example of lawyer entrperneurs that I’ve come across is ReputationDefender.


  2. Julie Fleming Brown
    Julie Fleming Brown says:

    Penelope, thanks for visiting and commenting! I agree that entrepreneurship is up signficantly, as is the desire to work for oneself. Unless the bug results in a lawyer’s opening his/her own practice (or starting a firm or the like), I wouldn’t count that as practicing law. Using the skills, sure, quite likely in a way that’s more amenable to frequent job hops.

    I’m still not so sure it’s feasible to change jobs frequently as a rank-and-file lawyer. I think it’s possible early in one’s practice, and it’s probably always feasible for the superstars. But especially for those in private practice, I think the challenges of developing and maintaining a book of business would likely counsel against frequent changes. Who knows, though; so much has changed in practice over the last few years, and you may have tapped right on a harbinger of things to come.

    I checked out ReputationDefender — fascinating idea! That’s a terrific example of taking a legal background and making it sing as an entrepreneur.

  3. Joseph Dunphy
    Joseph Dunphy says:

    So, let’s think about this – any serious R&D project will take more years to complete than will probably be left in the time at the firm remaining to any of the participants. How, pray tell, is anything supposed to get done?

  4. Julie Fleming-Brown
    Julie Fleming-Brown says:

    Joseph, thanks for your comment. I was initially a bit puzzled about its content, since this post has nothing to do with an R&D project at all.

    Then I discovered your blog, on which you wrote, “Reading some commentary about generation Y and its future in the workplace by one of my least favorite bloggers (Penelope Trunk, aka “The Brazen Careerist”), I couldn’t help but notice just how much our smugly passionate defender of the status quo was predicting that the very youngest adults would be able to get away with, and the reasons she gave for this.”

    So I take it that your comment is directed more toward Penelope Trunk than this post. Fair enough.

  5. Joseph Dunphy
    Joseph Dunphy says:

    Ms.Fleming-Brown, let’s take a look at the post by Trunk that you’re responding to, starting with a passage that you referred to in the body of your own post:

    “Although the thoughts don’t transfer entirely to law, Penelope Trunk, the Brazen Careerist, has an interesting post today titled Make Life More Stable With Frequent Job Changes. The thrust of the post is that most new employees today will change jobs every two years ”

    Let’s place that in context. Trunk writes:

    “It used to be that finding a good paying career was the path to adult-life stability. Those days are over. What we think of as stability has to change, and how we get to that stability has to change.

    Here’s a summary of the new employee of today’s workplace: Most will change jobs every two years. Most will start their adult life by moving back in with their parents. Most say that money is not their number one concern in evaluating a job.

    You think it’s a recipe for instability, right? But what else is there to do? Work at IBM until you get a gold watch? There are no more jobs like that – companies are under too much pressure to be lean and flexible (read: layoffs, downsizing, reorgs), so workers have to be, too (read: constantly on the alert for new job possibilities).”

    I had no idea that IBM was a law firm, and I’m guessing that you didn’t, either. 🙂 It is, in fact, an electronics firm that historically has been more than slightly connected to R&D, so if your confusion was sincere – just how closely did you read Ms.Trunk’s article?

  6. Julie Fleming-Brown
    Julie Fleming-Brown says:

    Joseph, I neither want nor intend to argue with you. I will, however, respond to your final comment for the sake of clarity and closure.

    My post was directed exclusively to the question of whether the frequent-job-change trend described by Penelope Trunk may inform the law firm associate attrition rates that are the focus of quite a bit of discussion among law firms and those who work with/in them.

    IBM, though it employs a large number of lawyers, is not a law firm. In-house counsel operate under some different norms (though some overlap) from those that tend to play out among private firm lawyers. Moreover, although IBM lawyers may be interested in the legal aspects of R&D, they don’t do R&D.

    Again, your comments are directed toward Penelope’s post, not toward mine.

    I appreciate your clarification.

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