In the last ten years the legal landscape has been transformational. There are more law firms in every major jurisdiction and as such, the competition for talent is even greater. It is incredibly rare for partners to commit to one firm through their whole career (something which used to be the norm). Moreover, partners are more likely to move at least once in their career.
There are many reasons for the increased moves. Some firms are paying huge amounts of money to attract partners and, while not as popular as it used to be, some firms still offer guaranteed packages. In fact, since the last major downturn in 2009 I have seen the offers received for my partner candidates to have got bigger and bigger. Where a partner fits a strategic area, has clients that will move and track record for success, then I am sure they will be able to earn more at a competitor. This has been the case with our recent team and partner moves in London, Hong Kong, New York and Silicon Valley. This is a trend that will never stop. Aside from the money, partners are moving for a host of other reasons including great international presence, more aligned management strategy or simply because they want to have a change.
Here are my three top tips for retaining your best:
- Give them a voice: The best way to try and keep them is to make partners feel they have a voice and have a role in the direction of the firm. Most partners I move aren’t only looking for more money. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves and their practice. An open management which listens to their best is key to retaining talent.
- Dead wood: Firms tend to grow for the sake of growth. Some say size doesn’t matter and I always tend to agree with this in this case. Therefore, I am a firm believer that firm’s need to constantly be ditching their dead wood. There are too many partners in every law firm. I am not to say this applies to “service partner” as these are integral to growth. However, it is those partners who do not justify their position or remuneration that need to go (ideally to one of your competitors so they can be a drain of their resources). If I am a top billing partner or an up-and-coming junior partner then the last thing I want is to be part of a firm where my business is subsidising those whose no longer make the grade. I know this is a cold approach and I do get criticised for this by some on the industry. However, I believe as the market has become more competitive there is little room for loyalty other than to those who are integral to your success.
- Pay them: One thing that is going to really frustrate the best partners is to see new lateral joiners paid far more than themselves simply to come on board. This has happened more recently with the UK Magic Circle firms when competing with the top US firms. The principle is sound – in order to attract the best you need to pay the best and this includes, in some cases, breaking your lock-step and offering guaranteed packages. However, what I find puzzling is when firms don’t increase remuneration to such levels for their existing partners who meet a similar standard. Failing to do this means you will attract the best laterals but lose your own. When this happens, firms will question why “star” partners are leaving to join competitors and that is when your brand really suffers. Once this happens it is game over in my opinion. In short, if you want to keep your best then you must pay them the best.