Seeking Advice…

This letter to the Jobs page recently appeared in a Washington post advice column:

I’m in middle management at a small law firm. Of every three associates we hire, we inevitably part with two within a year. The pattern is always the same: The associate is hired, struggles with his hours for the first few months, and then develops problems maintaining a responsible level of contact with clients. Then he struggles with deadlines, and finally when the partners and I are at our wits’ end, the associate pretty much stops working, stops billing and becomes a liability. We offer training and performance plans, we have scheduled weekly meetings with the associates, and we’re small so someone is always available for guidance. Is firing people just the way it is?

The advice given centered around asking the right interview questions, developing a list attributes required for success, evaluating the training program, etc. Every time I read something like this, I can’t help but wonder how much emphasis was put on research and writing skills during the evaluation and interview process. Associates spend approximately 80% of their time during the first few years conducting research and writing memos, so if a new associate lacks these skills this kind of turnover ratio is to be expected.

Although it hasn’t been done in the past, my advice would be to stop worrying about what school someone graduated from or what grade they got in Property Law 1, and have them submit a writing sample. Heck, why not give them a fact pattern, send them to the firm library and ask them to come back with a basic written answer in a few hours. Not only will you be able to evaluate their answer, you can really see how they responded to the assignment.

Solving the turnover problem by hiring the same graduates and following the same process, and expecting a different result, is like hitting your head against a wall and expecting it not to hurt.


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