Salary hikes may win battle but lose the war

The current rush of salary reviews at top UK and US law firms has received a lot of attention.

Given the scale of the increases this is not surprising, but it panders to the assumption that you only need to get the money high enough to solve the problem of recruiting and retaining the best staff.

In fact, money is only part of the issue.

There has been explosive growth in professional services. Internet start-ups, IT and management consultants, investment banks, accountants, lawyers – all are fishing in the same pool for talent.

Young professionals have a wealth of opportunities and law firms no longer simply compete among themselves for the best recruits, but against world class professional service firms offering interesting and financially rewarding alternatives.

So firms must make a career at the top of the legal profession as attractive as any across the professional services sector.

That means paying the best people at the top of the market and structuring a remuneration system that rewards exceptional effort, in-volves staff in the business and lets them share in its success.

It also means coaching and mentoring people.

Tremendous demands are made on lawyers at top law firms. Lawyers must be equipped to deal with those demands – they need the expertise to manage people, transactions and client relationships as well as legal skills.

Firms must also provide an attractive and supportive working environment. Some practices provide medical, dental and physiotherapy services and a gym.

These are not gimmicks – they are necessary to help people balance their work and other needs.

Also, flexible working helps staff and partners juggle the demands of clients with their responsibilities to their families and other dependants.

Technology allows lawyers to work on the move and from remote locations.

And people care about the sort of organisation they work for.

So an active community relations and pro bono programme is important, as is an open, and supportive environment that challenges, encourages and supports the individual.

In a major law firm all this applies not only to lawyers but to the whole range of professional staff – IT specialists, business managers, HR people, marketing support – and others who work together as a team to provide best service to clients.

Leading law firms must step up to become world class professional services organisations that satisfy clients and are attractive places to work if they are to win the “war for talent”.

Tony Angel is managing partner at Linklaters & Alliance.