New Acritas Survey: Law Firms Need to Focus on Respect & Engagement Toward Their Star Lawyers

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Law firms can go a long way in fostering successful and happy lawyers by focusing on such issues as respect, compensation and engagement, according to a survey of some of the world’s leading lawyers.

Indeed, law firms’ attitudes and actions toward their lawyers, especially around areas of managing and rewarding them, can literally cultivate or snuff out the very skills that clients most value, such as commerciality, connectedness and responsiveness, the survey noted.

The survey, Acritas Stars: A Global Survey of Star Lawyers’ Attitudes and Experiences, was conducted by global legal industry research firm Acritas and summarizes the findings of an online survey to which 938 of its “Star lawyers” responded. More than 5,000 lawyers worldwide have been designated as “Star lawyers” by Acritas following its 18-month-long survey of general counsel and other senior legal leaders who were asked to name outstanding outside counsel with whom they had worked.

(You can view a webinar video of the results here.)

Fortunately for many law firms, the majority of Star lawyers report that they are happy at their current firms — with 73% saying they would recommend their firm as a good place to work.

“Happy lawyers produce happy clients, and Star lawyers are very honest about what makes them happy,” said Lisa Hart Shepherd, chief executive officer of Acritas Research, Ltd. “They highly value fairness — in opportunities, in their treatment and in how they’re rewarded — and perceptions of unfairness in those areas are among the main triggers that would cause them to leave, particularly when their lack belief in the firm’s management or its strategy.”

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Acritas’ CEO & Founder Lisa Hart Shepherd

Indeed, the survey also reported that understanding and embracing the law firm’s strategic direction was another key influencer impacting workplace satisfaction among Star lawyers. “When lawyers are highly engaged and involved in what the firm is doing, that too will result in happier lawyers and as a result, happier clients,” Shepherd said.

And for law firms, the importance of Star lawyers cannot be understated. The survey found much higher levels of client satisfaction when a Star lawyer is on the team; and as a result, clients give a 100% higher share of legal spend to law firms that have Stars on their teams.

Of course, sometime lawyers are not happy and decide to leave their current firm for what they see as greener pastures — currently, about 22% of Star lawyers are weighing their options in this way, according to the survey.

That brought up another interesting finding in the survey, according to Shepherd. “Star lawyers who do eventually leave their current firm estimated they would take about 70% of their clients’ business with them, when in truth, the average for all lawyers (not for just Star lawyers) is 27%, based on data collected firsthand from clients.” she said.

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And perhaps not too surprising is that the survey found that dissatisfaction with compensation is the number one reason that Star lawyers consider moving to other firms, particularly if they believe their current firm’s compensation or bonus system is unfair or unclear.

Interestingly, the survey also found that while Star lawyers are happiest when they believe the compensation system used by their firm is fair, it didn’t really matter what type of system it was. “We found there wasn’t really an impact of what kind of structure the firm employed — lock-step, merit-based or whatever — it didn’t really matter as long as it was seen as fair and transparent,” Shepherd said.


For more, check out the Acritas Stars Infographic on the key findings in the survey.