Consequences of low turnover rates in law departments

Most US law departments suffer few voluntary departures of lawyers. Lawyers leave because spouses move, a spin-off or merger closes (See my post of Sept. 13, 2005 on Honeywell and Oracle’s experiences.), or at retirement, but otherwise there is 2-3 percent turnover. What follows from low levels of lawyer departures?

Low turnover leads to gray law departments stuffed with veterans. Where true, forced ranking becomes nonsensical if year after year the good performers remain in place (See my posts of Nov. 14, 2005 and May 4, 2005 calling the practice questionable.). There is diminished emphasis on succession planning when promotions are rare, perhaps on training too, but a department can sustain wider spans of control. Policies in writing become less important as commonly-understood practices suffice. It also seems plausible that stars will chafe at the lack of upward movement, and will take other opportunities.

Low departure rates also belie the constant complaints about the lack of a career path (See my post of March 28, 2006 about reasons not to go in-house.) and compensation (See my post of July 11, 2006 on how in-house compensation stayed flat in the UK.). Law departments suffer body blows to their knowledge base when a veteran retires (See my posts of June 12, 2005 and March 16, 2006 about loss of knowledge.).

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