Why Employers Should Think Twice Before Extending a Legal Job Counteroffer

Demand for specialized talent has made its way to the legal profession so if you've extended a counteroffer in the last few months in order to retain one of your top performers, you're not alone. Twenty-eight percent of the lawyers Robert Half Legal recently surveyed said they are more likely to make a counteroffer compared to a year ago while 13 percent acknowledged being less willing to do so.

One in three (33 percent) lawyers interviewed by Robert Half Legal also said they are concerned about losing employees to other job opportunities in the next six months. To avoid staff resignations, many of these employers are taking pre-emptive measures, including offering training (67 percent), flexible work schedules (56 percent) and increased compensation (55 percent), our research found.

Lawyers were asked, "Compared to 12 months ago, are you more or less willing to make a counteroffer in order to retain a valued employee?" Their responses:

 More willing


 Less willing


 No change


 Not applicable/don't make counteroffers


 Don't know/no answer





The more than 100 lawyers who expressed concern about losing employees to other job offers were also asked, "Which of the following actions, if any, has your law firm/company taken to persuade legal professionals to remain with the organization?" Their responses:*

 Provided professional development/training


 Offered flexible work schedules (part-time or reduced hours, split schedule, flextime or  telecommuting)


 Increased annual compensation or bonuses


 Increased nonfinancial incentives (onsite dry cleaning, fitness center, childcare, etc.)


 Something else


 None/don't know


*Multiple responses were permitted.

(Source: Robert Half Legal survey of 350 lawyers with the largest law firms and corporations in the United States and Canada. All of the respondents have hiring authority within their organizations.)


Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal, noted, "The market for skilled legal professionals is tightening -- especially for those who have experience in high-demand practice areas such as litigation and commercial law. It's natural for employers to take steps to keep top performers."

Volkert added, "As much as firms want to retain valued employees, counteroffers are rarely a good retention strategy. Many managers make them on impulse to avoid disruptions to workflow, service levels or client relationships. But all too often they backfire and the employee ends up leaving after a short time anyway."     

Four Points to Consider Before Extending a Counteroffer

Volkert offers the following four points to consider before extending a counteroffer:

  1. The long-term effect. While a counteroffer may solve the immediate staffing problem, it may have lasting repercussions if others learn you have sweetened the pot to keep a fellow employee. It can lead team members to question their own compensation.
  2. Underlying issues. Resignations can signal problems within a practice group or the firm at large. If similar concerns have been voiced by others, you may be able to address the issues and stem further attrition.
  3. The root of the problem. Does the counteroffer address all the issues that prompted the employee to pursue a new opportunity in the first place? Many individuals leave a firm within a year of agreeing to stay because the real reasons they were unhappy still exist.
  4. The potential opportunity. Accepting a resignation may result in your ability to make improvements that will benefit your remaining employees, such as hiring someone with expertise and skills that don't already exist within the current team.


Note: For more insights on compensation in the legal profession, including starting salary projections for 2014, download a complimentary copy of the Robert Half Legal 2014 Salary Guide.