Most of this will apply to law firms hiring lawyers who are 3+ years of PQE and in firms where there are not set salary bands.
- It is always in a law firm’s best interests to get as many as possible of a candidate’s aspirations before making an offer. This includes his or her career ambitions, financial goals, quality of life/remote working requirements etc.
- The ideal time to get a candidate’s aspirations, is after the first interview/chat and before any second.
- When a candidate’s salary expectations and a firm’s offer differ substantially e.g. £15k-£20k or higher, the firm needs to question at that point whether it will compromise or not. If it is not in a position to compromise, the law firm should say so and consider withdrawing.
- When a law firm and a candidate are close on salary (e.g. within £5k), care has to be taken by the law firm to decide who has to compromise. The best outcome would be some compromise on both sides. Not compromising is likely to lead to a declined offer.
- In doing all of the above, care has to be taken to understand each other’s context. If the law firm has other options, it may not be in the law firm’s best interests to carry on with some candidates. If the law firm has no other candidates it may want to review its hiring criteria against what the market offers. Similarly, if it knows the candidate has other options, it may not want to pursue matters.
When lawyer supply does not meet demand, law firms have to adjust their thinking on offers. They may have to …
- Pay candidates more than they had desired to without any additional demands.
- Pay candidates their desired salary but increase their billable target (common in firms who have individual billing targets).
- Pay candidates their desired salary but tweak any existing individual bonus scheme or devising a new one.
- Not meet candidate’s aspirations on salary but add a welcome bonus.
- Agree on increases in salary to a specified amount at a later date (e.g. we can’t pay you £55k now but our offer will be £51,000 with a guaranteed rise to £55k at the next pay review which is eight months’ time).
- Meet salary aspirations but in return ask for something else – e.g. ask a new hire to be the lead lawyer on accreditations, compliance for their team, or Legal 500 submissions etc.
Take home message
Declined offers are the worst possible outcome of a hiring process for a law firm especially if there are no other candidates available. They can be damaging if multiple interviews have taken place. Sometimes a lot of turndowns can cause a law firm reputation damage. That’s especially true in tight-knit practice areas or in small locations.
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