Lawyer salary hikes: Follow these tips to retain your top legal professionals

Recent news about lawyer salary hikes at some of the nation’s leading law firms has the legal field abuzz. As reported in the JD Journal, more than 80 Am Law firms have announced they will increase lawyer salary ranges for first-year associates to $180,000 a year, with many large firms also raising compensation for other attorneys.

Will Other Firms and Legal Departments Match Lawyer Salary Increases?

Many in the legal profession are speculating how small or boutique law firms will compete with larger organizations to recruit top talent given these lawyer salary hikes, while others are wondering how in-house legal teams will be affected.

It's important to keep in mind that many boutique or small-to-midsize law firms have flatter operational and compensation models than their Am Law counterparts. Billing rates at these smaller firms are typically lower than standard large firm rates and, as a result, they may not be in a position to raise salaries – nor do they necessarily want to in order to offer their clients lower rates and continue to retain their business.

On the corporate side, while some general counsel may not feel immediate pressure to increase compensation in response to recent law firm pay increases, most understand that competitive salaries and benefits are critical to attracting and retaining top legal talent long term. Many GCs will be taking recent industry trends into account when evaluating compensation levels for their in-house associates in the months ahead.

While salary is a top factor for many job candidates, research conducted by Robert Half Legal points to non-monetary benefits as key legal retention incentives. If law firms and corporate legal departments can’t increase recent lawyer salary ranges, they may be able to offer larger bonuses and enhanced benefits. Providing attractive non-monetary perks – remote work arrangements, flexible schedules, faster paths to partnerships or management roles, and professional development opportunities – can attract top talent to smaller firms or companies and help keep legal professionals motivated and satisfied on the job.

Lawyers list the best incentives, aside from compensation or bonus, for retaining legal professionals

Challenging work or variety of assignments


Flexible work arrangements


Professional development opportunities


Good corporate culture/work atmosphere


Vacation or time-off policy


Robert Half Legal survey of 200 lawyers among the largest law firms and corporations in the United States. Only the top responses are shown.

Lawyers Plan to Expand Legal Teams

These strategies are particularly important as legal managers look to expand their teams in the coming months. Nearly one-third (31 percent) of lawyers recently interviewed by Robert Half Legal said their law firms or companies plan to add new positions in the second half of 2016, with litigation and general business/commercial law identified as top practice areas that will offer the greatest number of legal jobs.*

Five Tips to Retain Top Legal Professionals

One-third (33 percent) of lawyers we surveyed said they were concerned about losing top legal performers to other job opportunities in the next six months; more than six in 10 (67 percent) of lawyers said it’s challenging to find skilled legal professionals today.* To re-energize and retain valued legal team members, follow these five tips:

1. Offer meaningful work.

Providing challenging work or variety of assignments not only enhances employee job satisfaction but also serves to identify future leaders. Managers should consider ways that tasks might be reassigned to advance employees' career goals.

2. Strive for work/life balance.

A key cause of dissatisfaction with legal jobs is the reality of the daily grind. Long hours and high stress have spurred some legal professionals to leave their jobs and even change careers. To improve work/life balance, consider the following approaches:

  • Mitigate burnout. Managers can’t eliminate workplace stress, but they can help their teams better manage it. Offer flexible working options if appropriate and in between major caseloads, encourage team members to take time off. But don’t just talk the talk. When managers take vacation time, it demonstrates that it’s appropriate for staff members to do likewise. And when workloads are high, consider interim legal support to help reduce pressure on the team.
  • Make time for pro bono work.Offering free legal service to nonprofit organizations may seem counterintuitive to legal teams that are already stretched. However, pro bono work not only gives back to the community, it also adds meaning to people’s jobs and helps them feel good about their legal careers.

3. Recognize employees’ contributions.

Team members who receive constructive feedback and regular recognition are more motivated to stay with their organization. Review recognition strategies and step up acknowledgement of top talent:

  • Re-evaluate compensation. While money isn't the only factor in job satisfaction, it is important and keeping lawyer salary packages competitive will help retention rates. While firms or companies may choose not to match recent associate pay hikes, managers should continue to evaluate compensation and non-monetary benefits that are prized by legal professionals.
  • Value more than work. Get to know the strengths and interests of legal team members; work with them to align assignments with these attributes, a tactic that can help to increase both morale and productivity.

4. Be an engaged manager.

Workers who feel their managers are responsive, respectful and invested in their careers are more likely to remain in their jobs.

  • Be transparent. Communicate honestly and don't leave employees in the dark when change occurs. Keep them apprised of the organization's short- and long-term goals. And give them a voice in decisions that affect them.

5. Provide development opportunities.

Encourage professional development; motivate staff to pursue the projects and cases that will interest them. By emphasizing ongoing education, organizations demonstrate they value and support the long-term success of their staff. Effective programs include mentoring, free CLE and online classes.

To retain the best and brightest legal talent, it’s important to monitor industry developments and enhance compensation and benefits programs when needed. Industry resources such as the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide can help employers evaluate hiring trends and customize lawyer salary offers.

Download a copy of the Salary Guide today.


*Source: Robert Half Legal survey of 200 lawyers among the largest law firms and corporations in the United States