It's easy for law firms to retain the best attorneys because they have an infinite capacity for talent at the top. The partnership structure allows for as many owners as the firm wants to create. Partners can be equity or non-equity, and a variety of alternative compensation packages allow firms to retain and recruit top talent, even those attorneys who aren't stakeholders. Even the leadership of the law firm is flexible enough to allow many attorneys to take on leadership roles such as chair of the firm, CEO, practice group chair, firm-wide managing partner, office managing partner, senior partner, management committee member and executive committee member. The inventory of leadership positions seems limitless.
Legal departments have no such luxury and have to grow and retain top talent using a completely different set of criteria, one that, for those who joined from a law firm, is difficult to get accustomed to. The GC has to create an environment that rewards the members of the department not by title, but by the real challenges and excitement of the legal and business work. The reality is that the best-trained lawyers that "grow-up" in corporate legal departments will likely leave as soon as they get really good at their jobs.
Few people stay in any job for the long term--that's an undeniable reality. But while they are there, you want your lawyers in your department to be excited about the work and the client. They may not stay forever, but you can take pride in creating future leaders who will become the next generation of top GCs.
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