SJ Berwin boosts options in bid to beat brain drain

SJ Berwin is shaking up assistants' career options in a radical move to combat a brain drain driven by the high-tech new economy.

The Lawyer revealed (21 February) that the firm was to boost assistants' salaries by up to 25 per cent. In addition to the wage increase, the firm is introducing a career dev-elopment plan admitting for the first time that its young solicitors might prefer to continue their careers outside SJ Berwin.

The firm wants to reduce the number of resignations, admitting that they have been higher than expected over the past 12 months, and preserve relationships with assistants who choose to leave.

SJ Berwin is also planning to set up an investment fund to boost bonuses for both partners and assistants following the strategy adopted by US firm Wilson Sonsini, which now earns more from its hi-tech investment fund than from legal work. However, David Harrel, senior partner at SJ Berwin, stresses that the fund idea is in its planning stages.

Harrel says: “Young lawyers are beginning to see law training as a stepping stone to somewhere else, which we have got to recognise and integrate into our business.”

As part of the approach the firm has taken on career development counsellor Helen Chuter, a former Freshfields tax lawyer, to run the programme and advise assistants who wish to leave.

“The idea is to follow the McKinsey model – train people up extremely well and then populate the world with your friends,” Harrel says. He adds the firm already receives work from former assistants.

“This wasn't a knee-jerk reaction, it was a response to what is happening in the US, especially in Silicon Valley where retention is an issue.”

Assistants will be provided with individual mentors and confidential career advice. If they decide to leave, Harrel says that the firm will advise them on their future outside.

“The average partner is not a good man manager,” Harrel says. “The amount of management training he receives is minuscule, so we will have real top-class training brought in.”