NALP Foundation Releases Update on Associate Attrition for Calendar Year 2021

The 2021 data from 125 participating firms in the U.S. and Canada showed radical increases in both the levels of associate hiring and attrition.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The NALP Foundation announces today the release of its newest annual Update on Associate Attrition, a detailed report on law firm associate hiring and departures for 2021. The Foundation has produced this signature report for over 20 years.

The 2021 data from 125 participating firms in the U.S. and Canada showed radical increases in both the levels of associate hiring and attrition, with associate attrition reaching a historic average rate of 26%, up 10% over the prior year. Intriguingly, this high attrition rate was relatively stable across geographic regions and across firm sizes. Concerningly, the 34% attrition rate for associates of color was notably higher, rising from 2020’s rate of 18%. Associate hiring was even more robust, nearly doubling from 2020 levels, with lateral hires slightly exceeding entry-level hires.

One new and surprising finding from this year’s data was the high level of mobility for associates leaving firms within one year of joining – this increased for both entry-level and lateral hires, with 10% of lateral and 6% of entry-level associates both arriving at and departing from their firms within 2021.

“While law firms have certainly struggled with associate retention in a highly volatile employment environment, with 2021’s special bonuses and salary raises, the year’s extraordinarily high hiring levels outpaced these losses across the board, rendering it more of an overall talent tornado than a Great Resignation for law firm associates,” according to The NALP Foundation President and CEO, Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower.

The new report breaks out associate hiring and attrition by firm size, as well as by gender identity and demographic cohorts, covering numerous topics, including:

• Associates’ reasons for departure,
• Their next professional destinations,
• The impact of COVID and workplace policies on their decision whether to leave their firm, and
• Entry vs. lateral hiring.

The full report (in PDF format) is available for purchase from the NALP Foundation at www.nalpfoundation.org/bookstore.