The Legal Talent War: Competing Beyond Paychecks

The war for talent is rife. Firms are unleashing major salary increases to secure top talent and get ahead of the game. 

Randstad Risesmart survey of 85 UK-based HR departments showed that 65% of participants believe “organisations will need the best people on board to help them rebuild” following the pandemic. So, it’s not hard to see why law firms are competing for legal talent are coming out guns blazing with such salary hikes for trainee and newly qualified solicitors and lawyers. 

Competing with the big bucks can be a daunting reality, but it doesn’t have to be. Climbing to the top of the paycheck pile isn’t the only tactic to keeping your best staff and attracting new talent. 

The Problem 

Industries across sectors are experiencing skills shortages and the legal sector is struggling to fill their vacancies too. Law firms are desperately trying to hang on to their existing staff while attracting new hires, with more than half of firms (51%) saying that acquiring and retaining talent is a high risk to future profitability

This battle for talent so far has had some extreme effects; according to the Robert Walters UK salary guide, professional service firms are planning to increase their pay budget by 10%-15% and graduate lawyers are starting with salaries as high as £150,000. Yet, these pay increases come with consequences. To avoid ‘wage compression’ whereby existing employees’ wages stay the same and they feel as if their additional experience is no longer highly valued, almost half of Robert Walters’ surveyed companies said they are planning to raise salaries to keep up with the amount offered to new hires. 

The fierce competition to not only attract new talent, but to keep existing staff, is an expensive problem. 

Solutions, not Spending 

The war for talent doesn’t have to be fought on the money battlefields alone. 

As news of the ‘Great Resignation’, the ‘new normal’, and skills shortages continue to swell, it has been made clear that employees are looking for more from their employers. 

According to Hays, 62% of employees indicated they would prefer to work fully remotely or via a hybrid model going forward. With further research showing that a fifth of workers want to work for an organisation that was committed to diversity, inclusion, and equality, and just over one in ten employees (12%) wanted to work for an organisation that gave them more time to focus on life outside work including volunteering, family, and hobbies. Another increasingly important requirement seems to be mental health, with 10% of employees wanting increased support with their mental wellbeing. 

These findings aren’t just general statistics – the desires of legal sector workers reflect the same patterns. 63% of lawyers would prefer to work flexible hours of their own choosing, in comparison to just 22% pre-Covid, with 15% indicating they would want to move to part-time work. 

All these numbers contribute to the argument that candidates and workers want more than money. The pandemic encouraged many to re-evaluate what they want from their careers, and this is where firms can play their hand at winning candidates over. 

Amberjack technology and services can help by targeting the areas that potential talent care about, and aiding organisations to hire more efficiently and effectively. These services could be the key to unlocking the talent warfare door, especially when you consider that, according to the ISE, the legal sector has one of the lowest recruiter ratios and the highest cost-per-hire (£14,589). 

Immersive assessments for potential 

What are you assessing for? This is a crucial question. Does your current assessment and selection process look for years of experience, or similar successes to your current staff? If your answer is yes, then you may be closing the door to future talent before you even start. 

Assessing for potential is Amberjack’s innovative method for finding the right talent for you. 

Our approach to assessment design is anchored in creating a realistic preview of your organisation and the applicant’s role within it. The best way to find if an applicant has potential, is by asking them to perform tasks they will be expected to carry out. This immersive way of assessing candidates not only allows them to see themselves in the role, but allows you to more accurately establish the applicants with high potential from the get-go. 

Examples of the kind of potential your candidates can demonstrate are included below: 

  • Mastery Potential – the ability to become a Master at the role you are hired into. 
  • Growth Potential – the ability to Master the role you are hired into and Grow, in a linear fashion, to also be able to Master the next role in the organisational hierarchy within that same job family. 
  • Turn Potential – the ability to Master the role you are hired into, Grow up the organisational hierarchy and ‘Take Turns’ – not just increasing your seniority, but also overseeing different areas or geographies within the business. Turn Potential is often what is meant when people talk about High Potential or Leadership Potential when they’re looking at Early Talent. 

Embracing diversity and inclusion – opening up your talent pool 

According to Prospects, only 3% of lawyers are disabled, compared to 13% of the overall UK workforce. Asian and Black lawyers are significantly underrepresented in mid to large firms. Women are underrepresented at a senior level: only 29% of women are partners in firms with 50 or more partners. 

It’s clear that for the legal sector, diversity and inclusion is an area with a lot of room for improvement. By committing to improving diversity and inclusion you not only better represent a wider range of clients, but increase the breadth of skills in your staff cohort. Candidates care about diversity, and this is only one reason you should too. 

Improving diversity and inclusion can be tackled through several routes, but a good place to start is with recruitment. Does your hiring process filter out diverse candidates? Do your recruitment practices amplify adverse impact? Are you even attracting a diverse pool of candidates? 

Technologies and services such as the ones we champion at Amberjack can help you address these questions. 

When addressing diversity, it is important to reflect on your entire process; starting with attraction. It’s no secret that law firms hire overwhelmingly from Russell Group universities. The 2020 Social Mobility Employer Index, showed that 84% of law firms’ graduate intakes were from the Russell Group. 

Are you competing for the same Oxbridge candidates as everyone else while ignoring enthusiastic future talent from elsewhere? Expanding your attraction can take you a long way when trying to improve your diversity without compromising on quality. In fact, in the 2022 Subject League Tables, 85 unaffiliated universities achieved an overall score of 80% or above for Law. Limiting new recruits to graduates from the 24 Russell Group Universities means missing out on potential waiting to be harnessed. 

Taking steps to level the playing field in your assessment and selection process is also key. If you’re looking for candidates with commercial awareness and effective communication, who pay attention to detail and thrive with analysis and research, then why are you recruiting based on experience? 

Finding these skills in your candidates doesn’t have to be difficult. By creating an inclusive assessment, without an academic achievement barrier and based on skills, you begin to remove historical disadvantages. When you hire based on experience and strengths, you hire in your own image, but by embracing the power of potential you embrace diversity, enthusiastic candidates willing to learn, and hidden talent. Just because someone hasn’t had an opportunity to do something in the past, it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t excel at doing it when given the chance. 

Putting candidate experience first 

Candidates don’t want to be messed around. Up to 60% of applicants will quit in the middle of filling out online applications because they are too long or unnecessarily complex. Candidate experience is extremely important to ensuring you attract the talent you need. 

This is where immersive assessments with relevant questions and situations come in. By using virtual assessments such as those provided by Amberjack, you create an engaging and interactive journey with a distinct picture of life at your organisation – exactly what candidates want. A clear representation of your firm allows candidates to get a good idea of what it’s like to work with you. 

Providing candidates with value and a personal touch is a priority for many firms; this is another area where Amberjack technologies such as our High Potential Assessment and Assessment Centres can be a real asset. Automation and proper utilisation of assessment platforms drives time and cost-saving benefits, allowing firms to free up time and provide the personal touch they champion. 

We partnered with Weightmans to provide our technology and services; as a result they were able to provide candidates with Coaching Calls before Assessment Centres. The Coaching Calls were an avenue for Weightmans to provide more information on the role and the upcoming assessment centre, as well as giving candidates a chance to ask questions, building candidate engagement. 

Our innovative High Potential Assessment measures the ‘whole person’ with four key pillars of potential; Applied Intellect, Digital Mindset, Creative Force, and Grit, in as little as 30 minutes. With the automatically generated feedback report that is sent to candidates, you further provide your applicants with value, and boost their chances at developing themselves. 

All this adds up to an excellent candidate experience. By partnering with us, Weightmans significantly improved their NPS scores across areas: Registration +63, Application +77, Interactive Assessment +62, Coaching Call +100. 

Leaving the ‘bidding war’ behind 

As firms continue to compete for a limited pool of candidates and restrict their own opportunities, this expensive problem is set to continue – but how far will it go? 

Firms don’t have an endless supply of money to be shelling out continuous salary hikes. If you can’t compete for that limited pool of candidates – don’t. There are candidates with untapped amounts of promise and heaps of potential waiting for their skills to be recognized and unleashed. 

Changing your tactics in the war for talent might just give you the edge. 

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