Perks of the job
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7 April 2014
Lawyers have a reputation for working long hours, and although larger law firms deny that they actively encourage staff to work late, they do not exactly persuade them to go home. In fact, they offer a range of lifestyle benefits based firmly around the workplace.
The largest City firms run in-house gyms and swimming pools which, while helping to relieve stress, mean that employees frequently live their work and social lives without stepping outside their office building. Other typical features include doctors and shops.
CMS Cameron McKenna, which has 870 UK-based employees, has gone one step further by becoming the first law firm to offer a concierge service for its lawyers and support staff. The service offers everything from helping people to plan a holiday or social event to arranging for a plumber or electrician to call at their house while they are at work.
Camerons' head of human resource (HR) policy and planning Avril Plumb says: "We want to help people focus on work without being distracted by other things. It's geared to cash-rich, time-poor people."
While lawyers working in legal departments of public companies can own shares in their employer, law firms are partnerships and are unable to offer their employees share schemes. This leaves law firms under pressure to offer other financial inducements.
Recruitment consultant Longbridge has found increasing numbers of firms offering "golden hellos", partly to counter the growing use of bonus schemes, many of which are designed to dissuade staff from leaving.
CMS Cameron McKenna offers lawyers a bonus once they reach their target number of chargeable hours, while support staff receive profit-related bonuses. Berwin Leighton, with 560 employees, also offers bonuses to lawyers and support staff. "Things are moving that way in many firms," says personnel manager Valerie Moncur.
Bonus schemes are not confined to larger firms. Lewis Silkin, which has 165 employees, offers bonuses to its lawyers and is considering whether to extend these to other employees.
But money is not everything. According to Dominique Pengelly, associate director at Longbridge, law firms are also offering more holiday, with lawyers typically taking up to 30 days a year. "The deciding factor on whether people accept a position or not seems to be holiday rather than anything else."
The competitive market for lawyers also extends to professional support staff, especially IT specialists. Linklaters & Alliance recognises this by offering equal benefits to support staff and fee-earners. Staff who are unable to take advantage of its in-house gym are offered heavily subsidised membership of the Holmes Place chain of health clubs. The firm also offers a free doctor, along with a physiotherapist and dentist which employees pay to visit.
Mavis Rees, Linklaters' senior personnel manager for compensation and benefits, says that the dentist, which has 700 people on its books, is especially valuable to newly-qualified lawyers who struggle to find a dentist near to home. Like many of the larger law firms, Linklaters provides a pension scheme, private health insurance and enhanced maternity benefits. The shop in its London office offers services such as dry cleaning and film processing. "We have to recognise the culture that we are working in and the hours people work," says Rees.
Clifford Chance, the largest UK law firm with 2,600 London-based staff, boasts a health club with a swimming pool and gym. Assheton Bogg, head of HR policy, says employees can "burn some sweat" at any time of the day providing it does not interfere with work. "The magic circle law firms typically work their lawyers quite hard but we're keen to look after them financially and in terms of their health."
Other facilities include a staff restaurant, shop, doctor and occupational health service. Fee-earners receive bonuses based on chargeable hours and other performance-related criteria, but bonuses for support staff are at the discretion of line managers.
Berwin Leighton offers subsidised gym membership, health screening and free drinks in a local wine bar or the staff restaurant every Friday evening. And it recently introduced an optional casual dress policy.
Smaller law firms, which cannot hope to compete with the salaries or wider benefits offered by larger firms, take an alternative approach and point out that employees can expect to go home at a sensible time.
Lewis Silkin offers season ticket loans, private medical insurance and life assurance. But according to personnel and training manager Ruth Willis, it is up to smaller firms to provide a more congenial working atmosphere. "We try and make sure that our lawyers can leave at 6.30 or 7.00."
Edwin Coe, with about 100 employees, offers a company pension, private medical insurance and death-in-service benefit. And while there is no bonus scheme, fee-earners receive commission for introducing new clients.
Linky Trott, who works in Edwin Coe's employment law unit, says that lawyers are increasingly looking for more than just a hefty salary. "We offer a friendlier and more family-orientated working environment."