Keeping the faithful

A lack of promotion opportunities is driving lawyers into the arms of other employers, according to a survey by TMP QD Legal in association with The Lawyer, which studies motivation among private practice and in-house lawyers.

More than 65 per cent of private practice lawyers and 60 per cent of in-house lawyers cite a lack of opportunities as the principal reason for resignation. The second-greatest cause of lawyer resignations is a lack of appreciation. While private practice lawyers face a typically hard route to partnership, those working in-house have traditionally reached head of department status and found a glass ceiling, beyond which it is incredibly difficult to progress. However, most lawyers still see partnership or head of department positions as important goals, and the vast majority in private practice expect to achieve it. The fluidity of staff at senior assistant level in private practice is obviously in large part explained by practitioners manoeuvring into the best positions to attain partnerships.

But these golden handcuffs really do work with the vast majority of lawyers. Both private practice and in-house lawyers claim that more money would keep them loyal – at least until the next call from a headhunter.

While the inevitable promise of promotion and greater appreciation also scored highly as factors that could fence lawyers into their jobs, so too did greater responsibility and more benefits. Perhaps this partly explains the continuing allure of the US firms in London – after all, they must have something to offer in addition to a bumper wage packet. Generally they offer more benefits, such as pensions, club memberships and private medical insurance, than their UK counterparts. Worryingly for the UK firms that have witnessed a steady stream of high-quality lawyers moving to one of the newly established US firms in London, as many as 83 per cent of lawyers say they would go to a US firm if offered a job.

The US influence can also be found in a lawyer’s preference of remuneration. Most prefer a mix of the English lockstep remuneration system with the US performance-related one. Pure lockstep is so unpopular that only nine per cent of respondents see it as a success. However, despite the growing relevance of the bottom line to their success, most lawyers are just happy to have trained in the profession, rather than undertaking another career with greater financial rewards. More than 60 per cent of lawyers say they would not have chosen a different career, regardless of the money.

But perhaps the most startling discovery of the survey is that more than half of women lawyers say they have suffered sexual discrimination at the hands of senior staff. This shows that many employers are still not in the 21st century, despite nearly all companies and firms having anti-sex discrimination policies.

All of this illustrates that if employers are to retain their best lawyers they must raise the standards of how they treat them, and provide them with more financial incentives to stay.

What issues persuade lawyers to change employer?