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Pressure on law firms to increase salaries

Almost half of employees in the legal sector are expecting a pay rise in 2022, as rising inflation and the “Great Resignation” causes employees to demand more from their employers.

A salary survey published by professional services recruitment firm Robert Walters suggests a disconnect between what firms are willing to pay and what employees are demanding.

Almost a quarter (23%) of legal professionals do not think their current employment offer meets their expectations, while 64% feel their pay does not accurately reflect the work they do.

This means that 48% of professionals in the legal sector are expecting a pay rise in 2022, however only 40% of firms are prepared to increase salaries.

Firms might find they need to refocus their efforts on retention, with the survey suggesting that 47% of legal professionals were looking for a new job in 2021. Eighty-two per cent were confident about the availability of job opportunities in law.

“Despite starting the year in a pandemic, the mass vaccine roll-out and widespread easing of restrictions in 2021 had a positive effect on business confidence, and with that came the return of hiring. Pent-up demand and renewed investment have meant that candidates are in the position of power – with the hottest talent able to command competitive pay increases,” said Chris Poole, Robert Walters’ UK managing director.

“The candidate shortage will continue into 2022, and it is here where companies will need to work harder to convince professionals to join their team. Employer brands will need to be enhanced, and benefits packages revised in line with post-pandemic expectations.”

Robert Walters analysed the salary and employment trends across the legal sector in London and the Midlands.

It looked at the roles advertised over a 12-month period to calculate the upper and lower limits of the salary range, finding that newly qualified solicitors in City firms are offered salaries in the £70-£107.5k range, while those in West End firms are offered pay within the £44-67k range.

US firms are offering much larger salaries for newly qualified solicitors: £120-£157k for roles at New York-based firms and £90-£120k at Mid-Atlantic practices.

Asked what they valued most about work, 57% of legal professionals valued receiving excellent compensation and benefits, 53% valued flexible working arrangements and 47% valued working with inspiring colleagues and company culture.

“Employers are in a difficult spot. Retaining staff is about a lot of different factors, but money can be a powerful lever. So to try to fend off competition, many employers are ramping up financial incentives, and ramping up salaries,” said David Leithead, chief operating officer at professional services recruitment firm Morgan McKinley.

“Getting a salary increase is a natural headline reason for moving, and right now talented people know there is particularly strong demand for them and that moving jobs should and will result in an uplift.”

However, Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, warned that offering big salary rises might not be enough to convince candidates to join, or stay, with a firm.

“A huge slice of the employment sector in the UK has spent two years through a lived experiment of working from home,” he says. “Recruiters have told me that they have employers who are paying significantly over the market rate, but the candidates just aren’t taking it because the organisation expects them to go into the office. Those candidates are going for jobs with lower pay, but with more flexibility.”

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