City managing partners are warning that ditching associate locksteps as the job market shows signs of recovery could be harmful.
Many firms are gearing up to revamp their current remuneration structures.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer last week revealed details of its new ‘career milestone’ model, which will replace the lockstep with a system based on specific development criteria.
Several firms, including Norton Rose and Pinsent Masons, have already abandoned PQE, while CMS Cameron McKenna and Simmons & Simmons are among those understood to be reviewing their systems.
However, one partner at a City firm believes the moves could backfire.
“I’m sceptical about what will happen,” he said. “My worry is that, as soon as the market picks up and everyone wants to keep associates, you can’t risk it.”
A managing partner at a silver circle firm agreed that the trend could disincentivise associates.
“Why provoke them when you’re talking about saving a few bob here and there?” he said. “For a massive firm it could make sense, but for others it would endanger the stability of the firm.”
A managing partner at a firm reviewing its system admitted that the downturn made such a move possible, saying: “If we did this three years ago lawyers would have moved across [to another firm], but in this market it’s a different dynamic.”