Associates Left Law Firms In Droves Last Year. Why’d They Go?

NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education released an update on associate attrition. And, as hinted at by the hot lateral market for associates in 2021, attrition was also at a high.

So, about that attrition rate — it was 26 percent in 2021, which, it was 16 percent in 2020… yup, that’s a pretty stark difference. In fact, it was the highest attrition rate recorded in the history of the survey, which began in 2006. Associates of color were even more likely to leave their law firms, with an attrition rate of 34 percent last year, compared with 18 percent in 2020.

Overall, 7,278 associates were hired in 2021 — compared with only 2,772 in 2020. And, while, yes, some were part of the normal associate churn that requires firms roll out the red carpet for law students in the hopes they’ll join the firm post graduation, a whopping 53 percent were laterals.

All this attrition talk is certainly noteworthy, but most startling are the associates that left their firms less than a year after being hired. That figure clocked in at 8 percent, broken out into 10 percent of laterals and 6 percent of newbie lawyers.

So why are associates bailing on their firms? The survey lists the pursuit of specific practice interests as the top reason at 19 percent of respondents, a career change to another type of legal job came in second at 17 percent, third was the answer we’ve all not-so-secretly been waiting for — better compensation at 12 percent, and wanting to move to a new geographic location came in at fourth with 10 percent of respondents.

Whatever reasons associates left their firms in 2021, here’s hoping their new job is a better fit.


Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).