Much has been written about developing a rigorous attraction and retention policy and how to put your firm’s best foot forward to attract good legal talent. We promise market salary, good working conditions etc etc , and we do it happily so that the lawyer will chose our firm over another firm, so that our lawyers are provided with a great working environment in which they can excel, so that our clients will be looked after and our business will thrive.
Fast track to an important part of the retention policy – the remuneration strategy. Many of us have just gone through or are soon to go through the salary review process. As managers of law firms we dutifully use the data from the salary surveys to make sure we are paying market salary.
My question to you, though relates to the other side of the equation – Performance.
Is it too much to expect market performance if you pay market salary?
I have had the pleasure of working with many high performers over the years, so I know what high performance looks like, feels like and how it manifests into success. Not just financial success but job satisfaction, driving others to high performance etc. The subject of this blog however focusses on under-performers because let’s face it – most of the high achievers have an intrinsic motivation and drive that you can’t coach, mentor or mandate.
According to the ALPMA Australian Legal Industry Salary survey recently released, most employees in the legal industry can expect to negotiate a pay rise in excess of CPI increases, despite the challenging business environment, with 53% of firms indicating that this is their intent for the next twelve months. A further 37% of firms indicated a pay rise in line with CPI increases.
“This news is tempered by the fact that 10% of all respondents are planning to implement a wage freeze – with 83% of those anticipating a wage freeze employing less than 25 people,” said Warrick McLean, ALPMA National President.
We as managers use the data available to us to structure carefully thought out salary packages and conditions. This is to entice the best of the best to come and work with us, and to increase salaries in line with what others are doing thus ensuring we retain our talented lawyers.
What I have seen over and over again is a good number of talented lawyers who become comfortable and gradually drop back a gear until their performance is at a level that is below their capability and below the firms’ expectations and budgets.
I don’t know about you but I was brought up to know that you have to earn things in life, not just expect, and a salary increase is in that category in my books.
Over the years and across a number of firms, I have heard every demand, excuse, musing from lawyers as to why they deserve more money, my all-time favourite was the a lawyer who said she wanted more money even though she knew she didn’t deserve it! What is that about?
The Practice Manager's Dilemma
ALPMA recently surveyed its members to identify the Hot Issues in HR for 2012 - and revealed “Managing poor performance” was rated by 40% as a highly important issue for law firm practice managers. I have often thought about this and struggle with what I call the “Practice Manager's Dilemma”.
Lawyer salary expectation + Retention policy + Market pressure + Under-performance
The Practice Manager's'Dilemma
In practice, the dilemma plays out like this - the smaller firms are implementing a wage freeze, and already have to compete very hard to attract and retain quality people. In a market where solicitors seem to vote with their feet (with haste) if they don’t get what they want, where does this leave the firm manager, particularly at salary review time?
Do we have to settle for under-performance and still award pay increases for fear that if we don’t our talent will be snapped up by one of the 53% of other law firms that may throw more money at them?
I often ask lawyers when they raise the issue of money – “How much would you like to earn?”, and when they give me the response I ask “And how hard are you prepared to work to achieve that?”. Some give the most unrealistic responses that it’s hard not to respond with – “Either you need to change your expectations of how hard you need to work or I need to change your charge out rate to that of a lawyer with 30 years’ experience”.
I say to every lawyer “You can earn as much as you want – but you have to work for it, you have to earn it”.
Is that too much to expect?
It seems that gone are the days when all lawyer were intrinsically driven and wanted to impress. Today we find ourselves having to find out what the lawyers want/need to motivate them and then make it as comfortable as possible for them to achieve those ambitions.
What ever happened to wanting to do a good job for your client, or put in a good day’s work and be recognised for your effort?
Do lawyers still aspire to partnership and recognise what it takes to get there?
Is the aspirational element to become a partner no longer existent?
Is Partnership old hat now anyway? It certainly seems it will be if the next wave of future partners aren’t motivated towards Partnership.
Why does the practice manager have sleepless nights about the lawyers who are under-performing?
Why is it not the lawyer having the sleepless nights?
Practice Managers Unite!
Till then let all of us be united in expecting market performance for market salary and not outbid each other when trying to attract talent away from another firm unless we are confident in what we are getting.
It always amazes me when lawyers come in and say I have been offered more money, and are then surprised if we don’t match it – does it occur to them that there might be a reason for that?
About our Guest Blogger
Jodi is an experienced legal practice manager, having worked in the legal industry for over 17 years. In her role as General Manager, Jodi is committed to ensuring that the people at Watkins Tapsell have the tools, knowledge, working environment and support to ensure the highest level of service to clients. Jodi achieved her Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2004. Jodi is a member of ALPMA's NSW Branch and was a member of ALPMA's National Board for two years.