Money is important. No one changes jobs with the goal of earning less money.
On the other hand, considering a job that pays less can perhaps be thought of as the cost of taking a role that offers something that money cannot buy, and while big salaries are always tempting, it is rarely the sole reason a lawyer moves from one firm to another.
There are several other factors and motives that we regularly see talent inquiring about when considering a move to another firm. This will range from training and career development to work-life balance, and the platform and prestige that only certain firms can offer.
These are important considerations for law firms looking to attract top talent and for candidates in deciding whether a firm is likely to be a good fit.
Top firms recruit from other top firms. Historically, U.S. firms have recruited heavily from the U.K. so-called Magic Circle firms because, for years, the U.K.'s elite provided the best training and arguably produced the best lawyers.
Magic Circle lawyers previously resisted the temptation of bigger salaries because the training and infrastructure on offer was vastly superior within the Magic Circle, but this is no longer the case.
Many U.S. firms have caught up, with their own training contracts and sophisticated professional development programs now well established and widely acknowledged in the legal sector.
Testament to a rise in the quality of training programs is the fact that many partners at London's top U.S. firms trained at a U.S. firm. The U.S. firms have been able to leverage this, increasingly luring up-and-coming lawyers away from the traditional preference of training at a Magic Circle firm, and they are performing well in the competition for talent.
There is also the trend of U.S. to U.S. moves. Money is not a consideration here because U.S. firms tend to follow the same pay scale. Instead, lawyers are moving from U.S. firms that have less training and infrastructure to U.S. firms that have more training and infrastructure, again demonstrating the clear benefits of establishing leading learning and development when it comes to attracting top talent.
U.S. firms pay more than Magic Circle firms, but the Magic Circle historically provided the best training, which compensated for lower salaries. However, the landscape is considerably different now that U.S. firms have caught up, and the pay gap still exists.
To combat this, some Magic Circle firms have implemented innovative associate bonus schemes, which can be highly lucrative and help to lure and retain top talent.
While money is not everything, finding creative ways to bolster the compensation offered to lawyers can prove an effective means of balancing the scales against firms able to entice with both high salaries and best-in-class training programs.
Work-life balance has become a buzzword in the world of business, including in the legal sector, and law firms have sought to address this in various ways. Some firms have lower billable hours targets than others, and some are better at monitoring utilization than others.
However, while firms are conscious of the increased attention candidates are paying to work-life balance, it should be noted that firms are cautious about being seen as a work-life balance option.
The hours might be shorter than their U.S. or Magic Circle counterparts, but firms want to avoid the perception that they are a walk in the park.
There are no guarantees of early finishes, and firms still need to satisfy their clients' demands. There will always be late nights. It just depends on how many and how often.
Unlike most careers, progression in private practice is straightforward. You progress, and your salary increases as you go up in post-qualified experience. The fork in the road is making it to partnership.
Partnership is never guaranteed, although some firms will have fewer barriers than others. At Magic Circle firms, for example, making partner could practically be described as looking through the eye of a needle.
On the other hand, it is widely known that some U.S. firms offer partnership from six years post-qualification and from eight years post-qualification at some top London City firms.
In addition to the partner title, the counsel position is also perceived differently at firms. For many, it is a holding pattern, offering an elevation in title and an increase in salary. At others, counsel means that one is on track to partnership, and the counsel application process is given as much weight and scrutiny as the partner process.
Some firms offer a better platform than others for certain practice areas or sectors. This can, and often, does, trump salary, as lawyers at associate level will have a good idea of the areas of law that interest them, and they will actively seek out opportunities that let them pursue these.
For example, a Magic Circle property lawyer may choose to move to a leading real estate boutique, or a U.S. corporate lawyer with a passion for the arts might choose to move to a leading media firm. People want to work at firms with a platform that is geared toward their work and their interests.
Top lawyers have excelled to get where they are. They were the smartest at school, they attended the best universities, they were highly competent, incredibly driven, fiercely competitive and extraordinarily passionate. They want to be the best, work for the best, be surrounded by the best, work with the best clients, and work on the best matters.
It is important to keep in mind that the term "best" is not exclusive to one firm or one type of firm. It can be captured in the world's leading private equity firm, a tier 1 media and entertainment practice, or a world-leading arbitration boutique.
These firms are the gold standard. They are the likes of McKinsey & Co. and Goldman Sachs. There is no better recruiting tool than this, and so actively demonstrating prestige to candidates should not be shied away from.
Associates move firms for a variety of reasons. There is very rarely one pull factor. Rather, it is a combination of multiple pull and push factors.
Other than offering bigger salaries, firms have devised tactics and offer benefits to lure top talent, while staying true to the realities of their business model, financials and their client demands.
With younger lawyers increasingly paying attention to factors beyond salary, it is firms that know how to put their best foot forward and appeal to lawyers' other wants that will ultimately pull ahead when competing for talent.