Law firm associate attrition continues to decline, NALP Foundation study shows

Subpar 'work quality standards' most cited reason for departure

Law firm associate attrition continues to decline, NALP Foundation study shows
Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower, president and CEO, and Jennifer Mandery, vice-president for research, of the NALP Foundation

Associate attrition continues its decline, according to the latest numbers from the NALP foundation.

NALP has tracked associate attrition for more than 20 years. Their 2023 report is based on a survey of 128 firms in Canada and the US, which examined 5,236 associate hires and 3,875 associate departures.

The overall association attrition rate for 2023 was 18 percent. The rate has consistently fallen since 2021’s historic high of 26 percent. Survey respondents reported 3,875 associate departures, down from 4,068 in 2022.

“We are seeing a reversion to pre-pandemic levels for many of the metrics that we assess in this study,” says Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower, president and CEO of the NALP foundation. “Within that sort of macro environment, I think both firms and talent – associates – are revisiting and finding a new normal at this stage.”

Jennifer Mandery, vice president for research at the NALP Foundation, adds that another notable finding was the number of associates leaving sooner.

The survey found that the rate of associates departing their firm within five years climbed to an all-time high of 82 percent. That number was 84 percent for the Canadian firms surveyed. Seventy-two percent left within four years.

That is lower than average, says Mandery. “We typically see about three-fourths leaving within five years of joining their firm.”

“We're just seeing less swirl in the talent market, in general,” says Trevelyan Hornblower. “There is a reduction in hiring and there's a reduction in departures. The overall attrition rate, therefore, declines commensurately.”

Overall, hiring decreased for the second year in a row, going from 6,786 to 5,236 between 2022 and 2023. In 2023, there were 2,902 entry-level hires and 2,334 lateral hires.

The survey showed that women were hired slightly more than men for the second year in a row, with a 52-48 split.

More than half of survey respondents said they hired an associate who had previously left the firm, an increase from 2022 when 48 percent reported rehires.

The most frequently cited reasons for associate departures were that firms fell short on “work quality standards” and “productivity standards,” which were cited 20 percent and 14 percent of the time, respectively. The “pursuit of specific practice interests” and “career change to other type of legal job” were cited 11 percent of the time each.

Trevelyan Hornblower notes that the number of associates departing due to “work quality standards” was down from 26 percent in 2022.

She adds that the NALP Foundation was working with a relatively small Canadian data set. She invites Canadian firms to participate in the survey to expand that information.

Recent articles & video

Survey report highlights challenges and solutions for family violence cases in Nova Scotia courts

Suncor's David Kramer speaks about big deals, the energy transition and career advice

Lawyers must be increasingly aware of technological, geopolitical trends: software founder Sean West

Who made it to the 2024 list of top pro bono law firms?

Tracy Davis appointed as Assistant Chief Justice of the Alberta Court of Justice

Charles Randall Smith re-appointed as chairperson of RCMP External Review Committee

Most Read Articles

BC Supreme Court rejects husband’s claim against wife’s counsel over family home sale proceeds

Crown attorneys share responsibility for Canada’s dysfunctional justice system

Lawyer salaries may vary more in wake of competition law changes: recruiter report

'We need to have the competence to question:' LegalTech panel on genAI fakes in the legal system