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Law firms are doing a good job empathizing with associates. 60% feel understood, looked after, and kept in the loop. The remaining 40% don’t share the same enthusiasm.

Here is what some of the 289 associates we surveyed told us about their law firms.

The empathetic firms:

“We are having frequent town halls — as a firm and in smaller groups”

“The firm keeps us updated about collections and financials”

“They are making sure the associates are not too under- or overwhelmed”

“Started WFH very early”

“Gave us (associates) new work researching potential COVID-19 regulations and impacts — and they really used it”

“Include me on client calls and discussions”

“Both me and a bunch of other associates I stay in touch with, got one-on-one attention from partners on new work”

Firms receiving empathy demerits:

“I was exposed to a client who tested positive and the firm did not tell me for over 2 weeks after they knew”

“I feel like I have been left to swim in very deep water, in the dark”

“The firm feels panicked and doesn’t seem to have a plan”

“Leadership doesn’t share any insight into the workings of the firm, so we (associates) don’t know if their decisions are good or bad, or even what these decisions are”

“The partners are demoralized after the pay cuts — they don’t have positive things to say”

Where Doubt is Creeping In

Interestingly, we found no difference in responses between women and men associates. But, a number of the women associates expressed concern over how their firms would respond to school opening, or not, as the case may be. Associates with children wonder how their firms are going to handle the need to homeschool, work even more flexible hours, and deal with family conflicts. The firms already showing empathy have an edge — but decisions about school, child care, elder care, and getting back on public transportation as the office reopens, borders on one of the most personal and emotional decisions associates face. A growing number of associates are hopeful these issues will not test the limits of empathy.

Every firm can learn from the empathizers. Over-communicate, listen, be flexible, and cut yourself off from conventional thinking. Plan on these decisions to have an outsized impact on how associates think about the firm for years to come. And, no matter what your partner/associate ratio plan is — you can always do better with a more motivated associate. This is your chance to create a stronger and lasting bond.

Be well. Be cautious. Be healthy.


The MAD Clientist

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