Partners Who Are Teaching Partners Keep Their Associates Longer.

If you’re an administrator who sees a bit of a revolving door syndrome in your firm, wouldn’t you like to know what to tell partners that they’re doing wrong—and right?  Granted, there are many factors that lead to an associate’s leaving, but a good rapport with their supervisor contributes towards overall work satisfaction for most associates.

What if you’re a partner?  Are those associates you supervise perhaps a bit on the close-mouthed side?  Would you like to know what it takes to keep an associate happy?

According to Above The Law’s Jay Shepherd, an associate who wants to advance will look for a teaching partner…someone who takes them under their wing and consistently gives them a sense of the whole picture.  A supervisor who shares her or his own finely honed skills.

As a result, the associate will feel more informed in firm meetings, and is likely to become more connected with colleagues. And lawyers who are more connected with their fellow workers are less likely to leave.

When Shepherd’s fourth-year associate pal complained that he was thinking of leaving a firm—and he’d only been there for several months—Shepherd was quick to ask his friend why.

“Well, there’s this partner….” his friend said.

And what did the partner do that was so terrible?  Shepherd catalogued a few.  Here, then are a few “don’ts”…as well as a few “do’s”:

1.  You can’t let your associates feel like she or he is walking on egg shells.  Don’t be capricious.  Introduce consistency into your dealings. You’ll earn your associates’ trust that way.

2. Don’t narrowly define or compartmentalize your instructions. Give them an insider’s view of what’s really going on, behind the scenes as well as on the front lines.

3.  Show the associates that you value her or him by letting them get their feet wet.  Give her or him a chance to deal with clients. (They’ll only get better at if, and clients appreciate someone who knows all the details.  Associates are the ones who are doing the work anyway, so they know the ins-and-outs.)  

4.  Give your associates a chance on her or his own feet.  Let them conduct a deposition, argue a motion and appear before an administrative agency.

5.  Share your writing skills.  Rather than mark up your associate’s draft in red ink, or rewrite an entire document because “it’ll take less time”, you’ll gain more in the long run–as will they–by showing rather than doing.  What’s that saying? “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.“ (Chinese proverb.)

6.  Encourage associates to make strategic contributions.  If you want to control the strategizing, you may miss out on the good ideas that brainstorming leads to…and your associate will feel left out.

And, finally:

7.  Show your associates how to be a whiz at marketing.  You learned the hard way, and now you’re great at it.  Don’t begrudge your associates the benefit of your knowledge.  Again, two heads are better than one.

Who knows what marvelous campaign or concept your associates will help you come up with?

OK. Got all that?   If you’re an administrator, see that partners adhere to the above.  If you’re a supervising partner and you recognize yourself—“That’s exactly what I’m doing wrong,” you may say—remedy the situation immediately.

If you do, it could turn a bad situation completely around…and your associates will be nothing less than thrilled to stay around and learn all they can from you, their valued teaching partner.

After all, says Shepherd, “[t]he primary job of an associate is to learn how to someday be a partner”.  With your help, that’s just what will happen.  To learn more, go here:



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