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Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 5 months ago

Law firm reinvents its retention strategy

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The firm found success through investing in its workforce — and overhauling its summer associate program.
by: Amanda Postma Sarasota-Manatee Editor

A Sarasota-based law firm is changing up the way it recruits and retains lawyers and summer associates in order to stay ahead of turnover. 

“Eight years ago, we took a hard look at our summer program,” says John Moore, a partner and health law attorney at the firm, Williams Parker. “We thought this generation of law students were looking for something different.” 

Turns out, they were onto something, and the pandemic cemented it. Over the past two years, Williams Parker has offered six summer associates a full-time position at the prominent firm, founded in 1925. Five accepted. 

In reinventing its 10-week summer program, the firm focused its attention on providing mentoring and opportunities for employees to push themselves. One new aspect of the program that stands out is called The Big Project, where each summer associate must complete a lengthy paper and present their findings. They’re assigned a mentor through that program. 

A recent associate researched Florida law after the state adopted a medical use of marijuana statute. The associate presented what Florida and other states could expect, and which clients might be impacted by the statute or could participate. The paper was 85 pages. 

The associates really seem to enjoy the challenge, Moore says. He also notes the firm is proud of the work being done — even if the associate doesn’t end up working there. “Our goal is to teach you to be a better lawyer no matter where you work,” he says. “That has really helped us in recruiting.” 

Since COVID-19 hit, the project’s presentation has been done over Zoom. Additionally, the firm has moved away from in-person interviews and plans to stay that way for now. “It’s been very effective,” he says, adding it’s helped with screening as they typically receive 275-350 applications for the two to five summer positions.   

The Zoom interviews have been equally helpful when it comes to out-of-state applicants, whether it’s for the summer program or a regular position. Moore notes the firm could interview someone from Washington state or New York within their car.  “We’ve noticed an increase in out-of-state applicants,” he says of the pandemic’s impact on applicants. “It’s been an unusual couple of years.”

As for the turnover rate, Moore says there’s a perception around the younger generations being less likely to stick with a company for the long haul. Not so, at least at Williams Parker. “This particular group aren’t any less loyal,” he says, adding he’s noticed they’re motivated by self-improvement and career advancement. 

— Amanda Postma 

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