Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Law Firms Losing Associates at Record Pace

Here’s a shocking statistic: for every 20 associates hired by law firms from 2012 through 2018, 15 associates left.

More than half of the associate departures were “unwanted” by the firm, while 24 percent were “desired” by the law firm. The numbers predate the pandemic, which accelerated the pace of departures.

Those are some of the key findings in a newly published survey of 837 law firms of various sizes and geographic locations from 2012 through 2018. According to the survey, more than 27,000 associates were hired during that span, and more than 20,000 associates left. The attrition rate for minorities and females was higher than for non-minorities and males.

The report, titled Keeping the Keepers IV, was conducted by the NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education and legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa.

To stem the flood of departures, some firms are thinking outside of the box. One large firm has hired seven career coaches and embedded them in firm practice groups, according to Bloomberg Law. The coaches will make sure associates and new hires are transitioning smoothly to law firm life. They will also oversee the professional development of all associates, especially women and racial minorities.

Here is a story in the ABA Journal on the NALP survey. Highlights from the report appear below.

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“Keeping the Keepers” Survey

Here are a few highlights of the “Keeping the Keepers” Survey:

  • Lateral associates were more likely to leave firms because of work quality than associates hired out of law school. “Work quality standards not met” was cited as the reason for 18 percent of lateral associate departures and 13 percent of associates first hired at the entry level.
  • Sixteen (16) percent of lateral associates left for another legal job; the same percentage of law firm hires left for that reason.
  • Twelve (12) percent of lateral associates (and 17 percent of law school hires) left to pursue specific practice interests.
  • Twelve (12) percent of lateral associates (and nine percent of law school hires) departed because they didn’t meet productivity standards.
  • Eleven percent of lateral associates (and 10 percent of law school hires) were hired by a firm client.
  • Nine percent of associates left because they wanted better support for work-life balance.

Sources: Law firms lost 15 associates for every 20 they hired, NALP Foundation study finds ( and How to develop and keep associates? BigLaw firm tries embedding career coaches (


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About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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