Solving the Associate Retention Challenge With Developmental Networks

Written by Allison Wolf

As a coach, I am intensely interested in how we – professionals in the legal sector – can help retain young lawyers in the profession. Too many young lawyers are leaving legal practice. The reasons?

  • mistreatment by their law firms or the partners they work with.
  • graduates don’t know anything about the actual practice of law and face a steep and challenging learning curve.
  • The career path is unclear.
  • The practice area an associate is hired into isn’t one they wish to pursue in the long term.
  • The chances for having a life outside of law seem impossible.
  • A lack of feedback and learning opportunities from senior lawyers.

These are just some of the reasons I have come across. But, how do we combat these areas?

Traditional Mentoring

There is a traditional approach to mentoring in law of assigning one mentor to one junior lawyer but I have heard a lot about the hit-or-miss nature of mentorship programs along with the additional challenge around issues of confidentiality and trust between mentor and mentee. Sometimes senior lawyers themselves may not have received mentoring or much support as juniors so they too are unlikely to have had any leadership training.

The Power of Many

Law Societies, law schools, law firms and legal organizations are striving to implement programs to give young lawyers the tools and resources they need to succeed. The focus on mentorship and education in law needs to expand to a constellation of mentors and supporters – a developmental network – as it is called in the field of mentorship studies. For junior lawyers, a developmental network provides a range of people to turn to for advice, answers, and for working through challenges. The diversity of this group offers a variety of perspectives and insights.

Create a Developmental Network

Taking the initiative to build your own Developmental Network is another proactive approach. Step one is to evaluate your current network, looking for diversity gaps, and being realistic with yourself. Intentionally forming a developmental network takes some reflection and planning but can be accomplished in small steps.

A Mentoring Program

In response to my work on the frontlines with distressed lawyers, I launched a pilot developmental network for junior lawyers in 2020 called AMP (Associate Mentoring Plus). When I created AMP, I did so from the instinct about what was missing that could make a difference. My aim was for junior lawyers to have access to a community of support with coaches, mentors, and colleagues combined with educational opportunities rarely available in standard CLE training. This program is a unique developmental network.

To read the full article and the practical steps I recommend for moving forward, click here.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at allison@shiftworks.ca or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.

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