What Employees Can Teach Law Firm Owners

Kathy Fortin

August 30, 2017

The goal of every law firm leader should be to hire and retain, for the long term, qualified and well performing employees. Losing employees is difficult on the employing lawyer and the firm. Hiring to fill vacated positions becomes time consuming and stressful. Hiring quickly, without giving the process sufficient time and proper attention, is a common mistake. This mistake begets others -- losing (or letting go) employees. It can become a vicious cycle. While hiring mistakes will happen, no matter how hard you may have tried, there are many things within an employer’s control.

Have you incorporated exit interviews into your practices? It might not be appropriate in every situation, but can be effective most of the time. When you have had an employee who you thought was committed to the firm and, then, one day the announcement comes that he or she is giving notice they are leaving, there is some reason given:

  • Personal reasons
  • The need to earn more money
  • A better opportunity came along


A brief exit interview can help you, as the business owner, to learn information that can be valuable going forward. The goal is to avoid losing employees in the future.

The question in a small firm is who is best to conduct the interview. The senior lawyer, or one of the other lawyers, is the easy answer. However, they may feel uncomfortable doing so. Is there an office manager? Or, a trusted third party? Remember, the goal is to provide a setting that encourages a candid exchange of information and not one in which there is worry that personal feelings will get in the way. The objective is to learn what you can about this person’s view of the firm and what the managing lawyers may need to pay closer attention to or areas where improvement is needed. Some suggested questions are:

  • Overall, how would you describe your satisfaction with the position?
  • Tell me how you describe the culture of the firm.
  • How do you feel about how the firm is managed?
  • What areas can you suggest we could improve in to make current employees and future hires achieve greater job satisfaction?
  • If you were advising your replacement on how to succeed in the firm, what would you say?


What if you learn the employee had a very positive experience? That is validation you are doing things right. What if you learn a few small things that represent communication issues? These teaching moments can help you to make improvements that can benefit everyone, including you. And, for a final example, you may hear something difficult, a bigger issue, that you may not have realized needs attention. Maybe, systems are lacking or the firm might be understaffed, or overstaffed. You are then in a position to take control and make changes, but you have to be willing to ask and then listen. Exit interviews can be a valuable tool to improving your practice.