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Sloan and Harrison: The Associate Challenge


The problem at Sloan & Harrison law firm is the high turnover among its associates. This is due to dissatisfaction caused by issues such as lack of communication, work-life balance and mentorship.

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The mood at the firm among the associates has changed over the last few years and they are no longer satisfied with the way things are at the firm. This means that job satisfaction and commitment have also changed. According to four associates at the firm, they have concerns about their jobs. There is a concern about the lack of proper communication from the management. The management does not have communication about the requirements for advancement. Young lawyers join the firm with very high hopes of advancing in their careers because the law firm has a very high reputation. They turn down competitive offers from other firms and when they get to Sloan & Harrison they become disillusioned. The firm has failed to develop an organizational culture because the management’s vision, goals as well as values are not well defined. Hence the firm lacks the organisational culture which often determines the type of communication, leadership as well as group dynamics in an organization. This culture is perceived by workers as a motivation. The lack of commitment has led to a lack of affective commitment by the associates to Sloan. They do not feel an emotional attachment to the organization because they are excluded from decision-making. The associates say that being made aware of some decisions being made would make a big difference.

The lack of clear guidelines on advancement at the firm was founded on the belief that the best and brightest associates would be seen through their actions. Thus, little else was done to formulate guidelines on promotion. In addition, performance reviews were done by a given number of attorneys chosen by the associates that they had worked with. The attorneys would comment on their performance and describe what they had done well and what needed improvement. The reviews could be political and the billable hours were a major factor in the performance review. Those with less than 2400 hours did not get good reviews. The associates had to work very hard to ensure that their rankings were high as Sloan used them to determine the bonuses they received at the end of the year. It is also important to note that Sloan was known for paying bonuses that were below the market. Thus, the associates feel that they do not have enough support from the organization for all their effort. This has affected their normative commitment to the organization and that is why an associate like Mary McDeere feels like she should respond to calls she gets from other firms.

The associates are frustrated by the lack of guidelines on advancement as they know that things don’t just fall in place. The mystery of the path towards partnership becomes very hard for them to deal with as they have to put in a lot of hours in the work they are expected to do at the firm. On the other hand, the associates are frustrated about being kept in the dark about the decisions that are made at the firm. The management remains opaque about all the decisions that they make even on the ones that they do not need to be. The associates feel that if they were told how to work and the path to advancement they would work better.

The other concern is work-life balance. The workload changed rapidly between 1986 and 2006. In 1986 the workload was between 41 to 50 hours with 40 billable hours and in 2006 average hours had risen to 56 with 45 billables. Not only did the workload change, but the intensity of work increased. The associates are forced to work more hours every week in anticipation of promotion to Non-Share Partner (SNP). This is a position that does not give associate equity in the firm but is seen as a vital step towards becoming a full partner. Spending more time at work means less time with their families and their other social commitments. For example, Chris Darrow a senior associate has had to bill in more hours, and balancing time between his work and family has become difficult. He says no matter what he does, he feels as if he is either ignoring his work or family. A survey conducted in 2005 showed that partners and associates in America averaged about 1850 billable hours per annum. Those who worked at prestigious law firms had to bill over 2000. Sloan is a prestigious law firm and those who billed less than 2400 hours per annum were not taken seriously in fact they were frowned upon. For an associate to get noticed at the firm they had to target around 3000 billable hours.

The associates felt that they put in more hours yet this did not reflect on the pay. This was according to a survey done in 1986. The survey showed that firms grew and became bigger. They made more money but associates did not share in the profits but shared in the changes and tensions that resulted from the growth. Those who worked at Sloan enjoyed the competitive atmosphere and the exposure to dealings with the government. The atmosphere at Sloan may lead some associates to develop continuous commitment. In this kind of organizational commitment, an employee considers the cost of leaving an organization and they may choose to stay even if they are not satisfied with their job. Chris Darrow is a good example of this type of commitment he has been at the firm for a long time and continues to put in more hours hoping to become a partner one day. He probably thinks that if he leaves before, he has achieved his goal he will have wasted his time in the firm and it will not be a wise decision.

Another challenge that the workers of Sloan faced was how to manage the conflicting demands of casework and their life outside work. This is because they were allowed to work from home as the firm’s culture was an emphasis on outcomes rather than processes; the work had to be at par with Sloan’s standards. This was good as it allowed them to develop their own voice in the firm. The flexible schedules give the employees more time with their families and this is related to effective commitment as they have the perception of lower organizational demands in terms of time. On the contrary, this arrangement becomes difficult to impose formalized mechanisms as the workers have different priorities. Some may want to work for longer hours while others would prefer fewer hours to be with their families. This makes it hard to work in teams.

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Mentorship lacks at the firm. Associates who join the firm find that the period between their fifth and eighth year in the firm is the hardest. This is a result of their rising expectations and responsibilities. They also experience insecurities about their future in the firm as they are expected to be very competitive. As, Mary McDeere, found out it was very tricky to get a mentor at the firm. This was caused by the tight schedules that resulted from more work as the firm became bigger. Partners could not even afford to have facetime. It is very difficult to build a relationship at the firm with the kind of workloads people have. Therefore, it was difficult to find somebody that one could talk to at the firm without being shot down. People are scared about talking about their problems due to the fear of their reputations getting tainted if the information leaked out. On the other hand, the associates do not get their need of support met at the firm.

Every social system is made up of complex human relationships. The behaviour of one person affects others directly or indirectly (Clark, social systems, para. 1). The associates in the firm have little association which leads to individualization that results in isolation. When associates are isolated from the other partners or lack a mentor, they are not prepared to face the challenges at the firm. They make mistakes because they lack someone who can mentor them about the kind of cases to take as mistakes are not tolerated at the firm. The associates have to learn by doing as most of the training done is through a laptop. This lack of a mentor makes it very difficult for them to survive in the firm.

The firm believed in first impressions and one’s entry behaviour determined how one would move up in the firm. The first impressions were heard to forget at the firm and if one failed to impress at first, they had to live with the constant fear that they had lost their chance to impress. This kind of feeling may make one lose motivation because they will feel that no matter how hard they try they cannot rectify the mistakes they made or the slow start that they had. This was the concern of Terry Hagen who felt that he had not yet started properly at the firm as he had failed to make an impact in his initial days at the firm.


Sloan needs to improve communication from the management down to the rest of the staff. The associates need to know the process of advancement. This will make them be at ease and know what they are required to do to become partners. With this knowledge, they can relax and work towards becoming partners.

The firm should also involve the associates in making some of the decisions that concern the firm. This way they will feel as part and parcel of the firm instead of people who can be dropped at any moment due to the mistakes they may make. When workers are involved in the decision-making process they are allowed to air their concerns. This would give the associates a good opportunity to ask questions and give suggestions on how to improve things at the firm.

The firm should also realize that times have changed so that they can respond accordingly. The firm should assess to understand how its workers feel about the way things are run at the firm. This way the firm will be able to retain its best workforce and remain at the top of its game. The company should realize that people are not only interested in becoming partners as there are other opportunities out there and they can always leave with the experience and exposure they gain at the firm.

Sloan should come up with a number of billable hours that are convenient both for the firm and for its workers. This will improve teamwork as people can work together more and meet their targets to avoid instances where some partners pull their teammates behind in the assignments they are given as teams. Interventions should be arranged to enable the partners to come to a consensus on how to work together. In addition, more associates can be added to reduce the burden. This will ensure there are no backloads of tasks.

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Sloan should pay its workers bonuses that are par with the market. This will boost the morale of the workers and they will be encouraged to work more for the success of the firm as well as their own. The firm should also remunerate the workers well as it makes a lot of money due to its high reputation. Remunerating workers well should be done on merit and not only on the performance rankings; as they may be political hence not fair.

The firm should have a way of helping those who make mistakes instead of leaving them behind or dropping them. This can be done by shifting the idea of being successful at the firm from the first impressions. This will allow associates like Hagen to redeem their careers.

Mentorship should be encouraged at the firm by creating opportunities for the associates and the partners to meet. This will enable them to build a relationship and mutual respect. With a relationship, associates can be mentored and hence be able to survive in the competitive environment at Sloan.


The firm should curb the problem of the high turnover of its workers. This can be done by having mentors guide the associates on the kind of assignments they undertake. This will give them a chance to rehabilitate their performance instead of leaving the firm when they fail to perform their initial tasks. This will safeguard the reputation of the firm as a high turnover of staff affects every organization. Sloan can do this by making sure that the three types of organizational commitment are present in the firm. The firm should support the associates as this will lead to the continuance and affective commitment. This will lead to greater commitment and job satisfaction and hence Sloan will not have to deal with the high associate turnover.


Colquitt, L., and Wesson (2009). Organizational Behaviour. McGraw Hill.

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