Six months ago, US firm White & Case announced that it was to hike newly qualified salaries up to £45,000 as part of its drive to attract UK lawyers. The move was greeted rather circumspectly by City firms, which, in general, hoped it was a trend that would not catch on in the top London firms.
Many firms were quick to opine that their assistants had more nous than to be wowed by New York salaries and would figure out that the price to be paid was long hours and uncertain long-term career prospects.
However, it seems that the Americans did indeed set a trend, which City firms are now following. In the battle to recruit the best lawyers, the age-old unspoken tradition of agreeing a salary for newly qualifieds has broken down and the top firms are going it alone. Indeed, some newly qualified lawyers in leading City firms could see their salaries shoot up to well over £30,000 from around £27,000 last year.
A shortage of good recruits is providing the market force behind paying such substantial sums. However, firms should also reflect on their ability to hold on to staff. Having been recruited and trained by a practice, lawyers then have a relatively short shelf life if they are not elevated to partnership level.
One lawyer with five-year's qualification made the comment recently that law was the only profession where the more employees knew, the less employable they were.
Whether true or not, it is nonetheless a timely reminder for firms that loyalty is also as important as ability, and that firms need to be innovative in devising opportunities for their staff.
Financial rewards are important, but are also only part of the broad picture within the profession. Lawyers are not generally inclined to move firms for financial reasons alone.