IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT THE MONEYA Tyler Wilson Viewpoint on Spiralling Associates' Pay
Over recent months, associates’ pay has occupied many column-inches. In this Viewpoint, we consider options for a firm that wants to offer a competitive package to its associates without simply matching top rates of pay.
We believe that this not about what you pay and reward people for, but about values, culture and strategy, and which of a panoply of non-financial levers you choose to pull.
What version of the memorandum below (written by a fictitious Managing Partner) would you send your associates, if you feel unable or unwilling to be bound by spiralling pay levels?
In reviewing our achievements this year, there is much to be proud of. We are trusted business advisors, alert to our clients’ risks and responsive to their needs. To our peers, we are respected adversaries, admired for our tenacity and for our ingenuity and integrity. To each other, we are supportive and respectful, valuing the diverse skills and abilities we each bring to every challenge and opportunity. There is nowhere I would rather work.
In glancing in the mirror, we are not complacent but, instead, reaffirm our self-worth and pride in who we are. There are firms whose claims rival ours for the attentions of clients, for excellence as lawyers and for prestige as workplaces. But however cut-throat the market and daunting the competition, we will not seek to be more attractive by lowering our sights or aiming at easier targets. We will not improve our standing simply by imitating other firms. Our aspirations must remain true to what matters.
Many firms look too hard at league tables and don’t think enough about how to compete on their own terms. In the legal profession, everyone is well paid. Anyone tempted by the rewards in other firms should consider the sacrifices required in return. There is a direct correlation between pay and expected revenue per lawyer. Your hourly rate of pay can easily remain static while your pay packet bulges.
Your position mirrors that of partners. What binds us to the firm is a combination of prosperity from the firm’s success and the value we ascribe to measures beyond money. My role is to nurture the singular and attractive aspects of our culture, which we all recognise as being intangible but indispensable. Values are often adopted as window dressing, but crumble against reality. That will not happen here.
Here are five measures of value that will always drive the decisions I make as Managing Partner.
Our pay structure will be fair in the context of both market norms and profitability. That means acknowledging the salaries offered by comparator firms and ensuring that you share in any bounty enjoyed by partners as a result of above-target profitability.
Our pay bands will be transparent and based on your performance, not your seniority. Your place within those bands, and any bonus, will be confidential, judgement-based and bespoke, not formulaic or one-size-fits-all.
We want our response to differences in performance to be help and support, not a pay adjustment. We will pay the highest salaries we can afford and award bonuses for exceptional one-off contributions. We will not provide incentives to look good on any of our metrics.
We will support your personal growth and professional development via a menu of options and give you a personal budget for mentoring, coaching and personalised learning. We will use regular conversations (not annual appraisals) for two-way feedback, for understanding your expectations and needs and, most importantly, to provide a confidential space for you to seek and receive honest career advice. Partners will be given specific training to make these conversations as helpful as they can be.
We understand that integrating life outside the office with your work is universally important, but the choices are individual. In future, you can switch to (and from) a fixed hours contract, with agreed start and finish times and a pay discount, or retain a regular contract at full salary, with hours dependent on client needs.
You may convert your bonus into holiday and take an unpaid four-week sabbatical each year, without needing to give a reason. We want you to have the tools to stay on top of your game, and the power to control the role that work plays in your life.
As lawyers, we understand the importance of detail. We are also aware of how easy it is not to show appreciation amid the pressure of deadlines and demands of client service. Responsibility for appreciating your contribution starts with us, but can be carried on by you. Tell us who deserves recognition – for thoughtfulness, initiative, problem-solving or technical excellence. Be the change you want to see. We will notice and recognise you for it.
There may be firms where associates progress through being seen, not heard. A truly diverse and inclusive culture is receptive to all voices. We do not only want to hear certain voices on certain subjects. There are issues that are confidential to management or partners. Outside those, feel free to make suggestions and to be fully involved in the firm.
This also applies if you feel overwhelmed by work or by issues at home. Part of a lawyer’s DNA is to speak out against wrongdoing or unfairness and to use persuasion to advocate change. Here, using your voice to engage with our business will be a means of advancing your career, not limiting it.
My belief is that these five values are aspects of job satisfaction that money can’t buy. They offer more compelling reasons than simply what’s in your pay packet to make this firm your professional home. I rely on you to put these promises into practice and prove me right, or to speak out and explain to me how I am wrong. In return, I stake my own reputation on our willingness and ability to embed these values into our work.”