Survey finds counteroffers more common as law firms seek to retain top legal talent

 The war for talent has made its way to the legal profession. Lawyers surveyed recently by legal staffing firm Robert Half Legal said they are more likely today than a year ago to extend a counteroffer to a valued employee who has given notice. Twenty-eight percent of those polled said they are more likely to make a counteroffer compared to 13 percent who acknowledged being less willing to do so than 12 months ago.

One in three (33 percent) lawyers interviewed 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), the research shows.
The survey was developed by Robert Half Legal, a premier legal staffing firm specializing in the placement of lawyers, paralegals and other highly skilled legal professionals. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on 350 telephone interviews with lawyers in the United States and Canada: 175 of the respondents are employed at law firms with 20 or more employees and 175 are employed at companies with 1,000 or more employees. All of the respondents have hiring authority within their organizations.
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:  28%
• Less willing:  13%
• No change:  28%
• Not applicable/don’t make counteroffers:  28%
• Don’t know/no answer: 3%
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 (multiple responses were permitted):
• Provided professional development/training: 67%
• Offered flexible work schedules (part-time or reduced hours, split schedule, flextime or telecommuting): 56%
• Increased annual compensation or bonuses: 55%
• Increased nonfinancial incentives (onsite dry cleaning, fitness center, childcare, etc.): 16%
• Something else: 3%
• None/don’t know: 8%
“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,” said Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal. 
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.”
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.

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