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New Study Reveals Law Firm Culture is More Important than Compensation

Women prioritise diversity and inclusion while men seek international opportunities when making a lateral move in London's legal market

London, UK  (September 13, 2016) — Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA), the world’s largest legal search firm, today released the results of its inaugural London Lateral Partner Survey, revealing that culture is the primary reason partners switch firms. Fielded by Acritas Research and based on the responses of 176 law firm partners in London who changed firms in the past five years, the survey found that while 62% of partners were attracted to a firm's culture, a mere 15% were motivated by compensation.

Of those who selected culture as the strongest pull factor, two-thirds stated that diversity and inclusion played an important role in their decision. Women feel strongest about diversity, with 61% having selected this as a key driver, compared to only 21% of men.

“The legal market in London is still very much a male-dominated world,” said Melinda Wallman, head of the Partner Practice Group for Major, Lindsey & Africa in London and author of the study. “Recruiting female partners is much harder than attracting men – for a host of reasons – but our survey shows that female lateral partners have an easier time integrating into a new firm. The UK firms that have begun prioritising diversity initiatives have already begun experiencing the benefits of a more inclusive culture.”

By contrast, a firm’s international footprint is much more important for men, who made up 87% of respondents seeking international capabilities for clients. However, 28% of partners who sought international presence admitted in hindsight that they would have moved to a different firm.

“The takeaway for firms is clear – international opportunities are important for many lateral partners,” explained Wallman. “But in order to ensure satisfaction upon integration, both firms and partners need to do more diligence upfront, such as evaluating whether cross-border collaboration is feasible.”

The survey also revealed that higher firm profitability does not always translate to higher personal compensation. Meanwhile, partners expressed that personal compensation was not a strong motivator for switching firms.

“Money is important, but it’s not a driving force for lateral partners in London looking to change firms,” said Brent Harris, Executive Director, International Operations of Major, Lindsey & Africa. “Law firms should take note that partners are more swayed by leadership opportunities and cultural incentives than financial gain.” 

The survey examined other aspects of lateral partner moves, including partner integration, financial incentives, and overall satisfaction. Among the key findings:

  • Men and women agree that poor leadership and management are key drivers for leaving a firm.
  • Culture is the strongest pull factor, with 62% of partners selecting this as the top reason to join a new firm. Meanwhile, only 15% were motivated by compensation.
  • Despite this, only 28% of all respondents felt their cultural expectations were met.
  • Women feel stronger about working for a firm that values diversity, with 61% having selected this as a key driver attracting them to firms, compared to only 21% of men.
  • Men are more swayed than women by a firm’s international footprint, which enables them to service a wider array of client needs. In fact, men made up 87% of respondents seeking international opportunities.
  • Nearly 60% of lateral moves resulted in either increased originations or client referrals (from bringing existing books of business or securing new clients), and 33% saw an increase in both.
  • Of the 43% of partners who moved to firms more profitable than their previous firms, only 66% increased their personal compensation. This demonstrates that higher firm profitability does not always translate to higher personal compensation.
  • 62% of partners—predominantly women—felt they were very effectively integrated into their new firm.

MLA regularly conducts Lateral Partner Satisfaction and Compensation Surveys in the U.S., giving voice to law firm partners about the lateral partner hiring and integration process. This is MLA's first lateral partner survey in London. In total, 2,073 laterals were invited to take part in a web-based survey between March 17 and April 26, 2016. The laterals were drawn from City firms whose PEP was in excess of £400,000.

The full text of MLA's London Lateral Partner Survey is available at www.mlaglobal.com/publications/research/london-lateral-partner-survey-2016.

About Major, Lindsey & Africa

Founded in 1982, Major, Lindsey & Africa is the world's largest and most experienced legal search firm. Combining local market knowledge and a global recruiting network, MLA has earned recognition for its track record of successful general counsel, corporate counsel, partner, associate and law firm management placements. MLA also provides law firms and companies with highly specialized legal professionals on project, interim and temporary-to-permanent hire basis. With 23 offices worldwide, MLA recruiters are dedicated to understanding and meeting client and candidate needs while maintaining the highest degree of professionalism and confidentiality. MLA considers every search a diversity search and has been committed to diversity in the law since its inception. Major, Lindsey & Africa is an Allegis Group company, the global leader in talent solutions. 

To learn more about MLA, visit www.mlaglobal.com.

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