Show me the money (and the time off)

Last year it was the English law firms in Spain that made headlines with the departure of many mid-level and senior associates. Now it is their turn to sit back and watch while the premier-league Spanish practices review their recruitment and retention strategies.

The Spanish law firms report that there is a shortage of young lawyers. A reduction in student numbers, at a time when law firms are seeking to grow, is increasing competition for the best lawyers. Not only are there fewer law graduates, but also law firms are becoming more demanding in their entrance requirements due to, they say, the increasingly demanding nature of corporate law and corporate clients.

While pay is increasingly important, greater emphasis is being placed by younger lawyers on their ‘work-life balance’, and fewer are tempted by the long haul to partnership.

As a result of all this, leading domestic firm Uría Menéndez recently announced better working conditions and a 32 per cent increase in assistant salaries – a significant improvement against most of its domestic competitors – with suggestions that others will follow.

For Almudena Arpón de Mendívil at Madrid’s Gómez-Acebo Pombo, “If you have someone only because of the money you pay them, you might also lose them for the same reason. Entering into a price war is not in the firm’s best interests,” she says.

While some of the English firms quietly improved pay and benefits at the end of last year to retain key fee-earners, they too may be drawn into the domestic pay increases. Firms have, by now, paid their annual bonuses and it will be after the summer break that the London firms will know whether they face a further round of departures.