Attracting and Retaining Top Talent
By: David Thompson & Lisa Allen

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
-- Richard Branson

Law firms are facing extreme challenges in attracting and retaining top talent. This issue has become more pervasive and problematic during the COVID pandemic, with firms pivoting to fully remote work or hybrid work models.
It is far easier today to live in Hamilton or surrounding area while being employed in Toronto at Toronto compensation rates. Toronto rates are generally higher than Hamilton market compensation rates, and the allure of working for a large Toronto firm potentially offers not only better compensation, but also perceived higher prestige and diversity.

Even after a return to normalcy and to in person work, fully remote work and hybrid work models will remain. Further, Go Train accessibility to Toronto now offers full service.

Attracting and retaining top talent involves creating a work culture and environment that strengthens employee engagement, and sees employees fulfilled and empowered in their role. This requires real effort and a dedicated time commitment by employers. It is not enough to simply pay “lip service” to this goal, or to think that “throwing money at the problem” will resolve it.

A Harvard Business Review article indicates that one of the main problems relating to retention of employees is an overall feeling of being over-worked and over-stressed.

Attempting to deal with those stressors through increased compensation is an incomplete solution. Today’s workforce expects satisfaction and fulfillment in their employment positions.

Furthermore, living through a two-year pandemic caused many employees to reassess priorities and to have a much clearer picture of what they need for job satisfaction.

A work culture that genuinely promotes open, candid, direct communication is necessary. Traditional hierarchical models are giving way to creation of a more communal, egalitarian work arrangement. Employees are fulfilled and empowered in their role when they feel that their input is truly welcome, appreciated and properly considered and taken into account.

Encouragement of social interaction between employees helps to build collegiality and friendship such that all involved are truly emotionally invested, and then much less likely to be looking for opportunities elsewhere. Employers should not simply sponsor or encourage the social interactions. That alone is not enough. Employers must actively participate demonstrating to employees that an investment of time and effort by the employer is a valuable and worthwhile exercise.

Social interaction creates a bond of greater trust allowing for more direct and effective communication. Direct and effective communication allows law firms to move towards creation of this type of work culture and environment through the conduct of stay interviews with all employees on at least an annual basis, and ideally more frequently.

Stay interviews are one-on-one conversations designed to build trust and to provide the employee with a say in the workplace.

In conducting a “stay interview” and attempting to obtain candid honest information from employees, employers have to create a safe space so that employees feel comfortable answering honestly and candidly.

There is often a reluctance to answer these types of inquiries because they expose employees to vulnerability because employees are concerned that there might be negative repercussions in respect of their honest answers.

Employers have to be completely sincere and genuine about the reasons for the inquiries, and have to create a bond of trust with employees.

Further, once employers obtain answers to their inquiries at such an interview, they have to be prepared to accept the information obtained, and to be prepared to act on it.

Stay interviews do not consist of simply asking for feedback at a team meeting. They are not casual discussions in the workplace. They should not take place when there is a problem. They are a proactive step fully separate and apart from annual performance and salary reviews.

Important questions to ask during a stay interview include, “what about your job makes you excited to come to work?”; “what makes for a great day at work?”; “what is one thing that would make your job more satisfying and rewarding?”; “what about your job bothers you and keeps you up at night?”; and, “do you believe your work is meaningful and valuable?”

The stay interview should then talk about skills and talent utilization, and finally long-term professional/career development.

These are only a few suggested ways of attracting and retaining top talent. Ultimately, employee satisfaction and fulfillment is the key.

If employees feel valued and valuable, they develop a strong, emotional connection with the employer and their position making it extremely difficult to look or go elsewhere.

What follows are examples of a Team Mission Statement and a Team Culture Statement.

TEAM VISIONARY MISSION STATEMENT

The Team, like our best competitors, is aiming at a familiar target. We want to be the best, and to be perceived as the best by our clients, colleagues and the greater community.

Our goal is to provide legal services to our clients at the very highest level. Excellence in advocacy and representation is our goal, and delivery of that excellence to our clients at an unmatched level of service that is prompt and timely, professional, and at the same time simple and relatable.

We want to be innovative, at the frontier of identifying and responding to the needs of all clients. We want to capitalize on and leverage the latest technology.

We will never succeed by being excellent technicians alone, no matter how high our level of technical skill and knowledge.

Clients can make few distinctions on the technical capability of the best lawyers. Rather, they place great emphasis on the ability of a lawyer to enter their world, relate to them in their language and at their level, and talk to them about their legal problem with clear, consistent communication.

Clients want us to understand their legal problem. They want us to be interested in the problem, and to be invested in and committed to solving it.

TEAM CULTURE

We want our Team to be a place that provides professional fulfillment and personal growth opportunities for everyone.

All of us have a responsibility to contribute to the success of each Team member. We must help each other. We must each do something to contribute to the good of the Team.

Our Team is consultative. That does not mean unanimity or even consensus. It means soliciting views, inviting input and then making decisions.

Consultation and collaboration are valuable assets. We must leverage each other's strengths so that as a whole we are far greater than the sum of all our parts.

We must conduct ourselves within the Team with a spirit of generosity. We all must be prepared to do something for someone else expecting nothing in return. We must be selfless not selfish.

We are fulfilled when we do something for someone else without any expectation of something in return. Those are truly “feel good” moments. When we experience that feeling, we bask in it and want to do it more.
Little of this is much different from our best competitors. If we are to out-perform them, what we need is not a better vision, but a better approach to making it happen.

Our Team will succeed not by aiming at different targets, but by devising better ways to hit those targets. We must find agreement not on our destination, but on the path we take to get there.

Since clients hire people, not firms, our collective success is built on each individual one-by-one. Each team member needs to find a way to make themselves more valuable in the marketplace each year. If we do this, we will collectively succeed.
The role of the Team is to help each individual grow as a team member. The Team exists to help us all succeed, not the other way around.

In the practice of law, the need for personal development and growth is lifelong. The minute anyone of us begins to cruise, to rest on laurels, to rely on skills learned last year, that is the moment that decline begins. Complacency sets in and is hard to shake.

All of us must constantly be asking ourselves, “what new skills can I acquire?” The Team has the right to ask that question of each of us. We must constantly re-evaluate what we do and how we do it, the goal being improved team performance and culture on a consistent and regular basis.

Success comes not to those who swing for the fences every time at bat, but to those who rigorously commit themselves to a continuous program of constant  improvement, base-hit by base-hit. 

David Thompson specializes in class action, commercial and civil litigation. His candid, street-smart advice and approachable manner set him apart from the lawyers he regularly faces across the negotiating table or in court.

He can be reached at: 
Scarfone Hawkins
1 James St S 
14th Floor, 
Hamilton, ON L8P 4R5
Tel: (905) 526 4382
Email: [email protected]