As the financial year closes for many practices, it’s been performance review season in the legal sector for lawyers and legal support staff. If you’re entering the annual round of discussions around remuneration, the key to success with these conversations is being prepared to effectively articulate your value to your employer. Our expert legal recruiters have put together their thoughts on how to best approach these discussions, and provided some useful tips to assist in achieving the best outcome.
Key Market factors for consideration
Before you enter these discussions with your employer we encourage you to consider some key market factors which will have an impact on your salary increase. For example, if the market is buoyant and there’s a great talent shortage in your practice area and level of experience, then that can play in your favour. The level of any increase may be less, if it’s a market operating in recessionary times and there is less of a skill shortage for those with your background.
The size and nature of your employer’s practice is also a factor around where your pay will be set. We see differences between pay rates with general practice, medium sized, large, top tier and specialist firms. On a scale, top tier and high-end specialist firms tend to pay at the highest end of the market. Medium, large and top tier firms typically operate with banding systems which have their own level of flexibility, meaning that your salary rate will be capped at a level for your PQE, or the year group you are in. This also applies to legal secretaries who receive annual reviews with an inflation rate generally aligned to the size of firm, typically this sits at 3% however in the last two years we have seen top tier firms jump to 7%-9% increases. Of course these increases are tied to meeting performance targets as well as any other contributions you make to your role/team.
Different areas of work vary in charge out rates, which affects how clients are charged and can directly impact the salaries of both the legal professional and legal support staff doing the work. Large scale corporate legal work typically commands the highest charge out rates and will in turn deliver the highest salaries. In comparison, legally aided work, may mean that it’s more difficult to achieve large salary increases year on year.
Most firms, regardless of size, offer a base salary with a discretionary bonus structure. Some firms take this further by offering a more comprehensive bonus structure or additional benefits that need to be taken into consideration when assessing the overall renumeration package, things that could be included are health insurances, wellbeing allowances, extra leave days and car parking. Organisations are more likely to have a short term incentive scheme in place on top of base salary.
Increase in salary also means increase in responsibility
With an increase in salary comes an increase in expectations from employers and this is sometimes overlooked by candidates. It’s important to understand this change in expectations heading into the pay review. Consider the increased level of responsibility you will be taking on for files, how is your level of supervision / mentorship impacted, what are the new expectations around client relationship and file management. For more senior candidates you may also find you are expected to take on business development responsibilities and be more involved in mentoring juniors in the team.
Increased salary expectations directly relate to higher targets and performance expectations. Consider how these demands impact your working hours and work-life balance and assess accordingly.
Articulate your value
It’s crucial to enter a performance discussion prepared and with consideration around how you will articulate your value to the firm or organisation in the discussion.
Aspects to consider are:
• Measurable metrics such as: Billable hours and KPI targets, highlighting key achievements such as overachievement of budgets
• Value added to the firm through delivering large or complex pieces of work, file ownership, contribution to marketing and business development or introducing new clients
• Contribution to the team and working environment, including general attitude, attendance to client or networking events, highlighting anything that could be considered above and beyond
As a non-qualified legal support candidate, specific things to enter these conversations with are initiatives you have implemented, your part in delivering deadlines or getting something hard or favourable accomplished, for example payment of overdue invoices.
Entering performance conversations fully prepared having considered firm size, work type, your work-life balance and ‘value add’ combined with a talent shortage will put you in the best position to enter these reviews to achieve your desired outcome.
Prior to your performance review give one of our expert legal recruiters a call for market guidance and insight into comparable salaries.