Billable-Hour Alternatives as Recruiting and Retention Tools

The allure of high pay may attract younger lawyers to law firms. But many big firms are discovering that big salaries aren’t enough to keep associates happy.

Younger lawyers are more willing to forgo top salaries in exchange for work-life balance. This means that in the competition for associates, firms that don’t pay top dollar may be at an advantage.

The debate over whether the billable hour is an outdated business model isn’t new. But in a tight legal market, smaller and midsize firms are looking beyond it and offering other ways to monetize legal work. As a respondent to the 2022 Midlevel Associates Survey explained, “most people would accept a lower salary for a lower billable requirement.”

The Wellness Mindset

Some younger lawyers want to dedicate more time to pro bono work. Others want to spend more time with their families. The firms that have responded to this market demand by offering flexible scheduling, encouraging the actual use of vacation time and providing mental health days should be trumpeting their leadership in employee wellness. It may just be the reason an associate chooses your firm, or a more senior attorney chooses to stay.

  1. Feature stories about your approach to wellness on your website and social channels. Regularly highlight attorneys’ pro bono work — and their clients — and share personal interest pieces. Stories about attorneys pursuing their passions, whether it’s volunteer work or a hobby outside of work, demonstrate that your firm encourages employees to bring their whole selves to work. And it grants permission to your current associates to embrace a healthier approach to work.   

  2. Include information about your approach to wellness in your recruiting materials. Draw attention to you firm’s wellness policies and practices to ensure that recruits know your firm cultivates a healthy culture. Most importantly, provide proof points and data so that recruits know the policies are more than just words on a page.

  3. Discuss employee well-being during campus visits and recruiting fairs. Mental health may have been a taboo topic in the past, but younger lawyers don’t shy away from discussing it. When recruiters talk with potential candidates, they should be comfortable describing all the ways your firm helps attorneys create sustainable careers.

Offering more humane schedules and wellness programs can help you successfully recruit and retain attorneys. But only if potential hires and current lawyers know about these policies. Get the word out about your firm’s authentic commitment to wellness.