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Your Legal Employee is Leaving – Should You Make a Counteroffer?

  • August 10, 2019

As a legal professional, you know it’s a reality that employees come and go over the years. Sometimes that’s a good thing for everyone concerned, and some you will be sad to see leave.

So, if your talented and likeable Senior Conveyancing Solicitor comes to tell you they are leaving to go and work for a competitor, what’s your first reaction? Do you panic and wrack your brains for a motive to make them stay?Do you think “Oh well, we had a good run” and wave them goodbye?

Do you want to keep them, and should you even try?

If that individual is a great team-player, motivated, hard to replace (or expensive), planning a move to one of your biggest competitors and is currently working on a time-sensitive caseload, you will be tempted to offer them the moon to stay.

Additionally, the true cost of losing an employee can be prohibitive – hiring fees, recruiting time, onboarding and training – not to mention the nose-dive in morale for other employees who see a valued and talented colleague walking out of the door.

But a word of warning. Think twice before making a counteroffer as there are pros and cons to consider.

Why Employees Leave

Avoid the temptation to go in with a financial incentive to stay straight away. Research states that the individual will leave anyway within six to 24 months of your counteroffer.


The fact is that it’s rarely a salary issue that sees employees leave to take up another job offer. So, an offer of increased salary isn’t going to cut it long-term.

The main reasons people leave their current workplace include the following:

Lack of career progression. If an employee feels they have climbed as far up the career ladder as they can with your law firm, they are going to start casting their net elsewhere to discover better opportunities.

Poor management. People don’t quit their job; they quit their boss. And it’s true in many cases. Poor management practice can do a lot of damage – decimating and demoralising a workplace – often unnoticed by senior staff until it’s too late.

Unsatisfactory working environment. A workplace that doesn’t encourage ‘out of the box’ thinking or is inflexible with its staff is not going to be successful. Individuals need to feel valued and respected. They need to look forward to coming to work and enjoy their job. That way, they will have the drive and motivation to boost not only their own career but the firm’s fortunes too.

Desire for more challenging work. The employee may be bored in their work. Perhaps your Portal Fee Earner has been hoping for promotion to Team Leader for some time but hasn’t been successful. Or your Conveyancing Solicitor has been dealing with the same clients doing similar work for several years and yearns for a new challenge.

Either way, if your employee isn’t stretched or challenged in their job, they become disinterested. Then disinterest quickly transforms into boredom, and they start looking for something else to extend their capabilities.

Opportunity to join a high-profile law firm. Blinded by the dazzle of a top law firm, an employee might feel the urge to leave just to be part of a well-known firm. While it’s hard to argue with this one, they (and you) should be warned of the possible pitfalls. Does the company have a good reputation? Does it have a high staff turnover?

Better work-life balance. Some things money just can’t buy, and this is one of them.

Burn out is common amongst legal professionals. It’s challenging to juggle the needs of a busy job with home life, and inevitably, many employees look towards leaving a position to try to claw back some time for themselves and their family.

Asking the Right Questions

I would propose that initially, asking a few questions can give you a good indication of why your employee is thinking of leaving. You could open with a general “So, what’s got you thinking of leaving” or “Do you want to discuss it?”

Not everyone will want to talk about why they’re leaving a job – it might be personal. I read an article recently in Harvard Business Review in which Brian Kropp, head of CEB’s HR practice said, “The big realisation is that it’s not just what happens at work—it’s what happens in someone’s personal life that determines when he or she decides to look for a new job.”

Asking questions may help you gauge what the problem was that’s got them to the point where they are genuinely planning to pick up their things and go.

The best-case scenario of discussing it is that you will find out there’s a specific reason that you have the power to address and retain your employee.

The worse case is that you will have learned what was wrong and can put it right for future employees.

Either way, you will have addressed the issue and done as much as you could.

Making Your Counteroffer

If you want to make a counteroffer, first ask the employee these two questions:

Do they enjoy working with your law firm? Can they see themselves having a future with you?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then it’s worth making a counteroffer.

Start with non-financial incentives to stay. We already know they don’t work. Instead, consider these alternatives:

• Improve your workplace culture to allow diversity and inclusion to flourish.

• Explore flexible working hours. It’s worth considering offering flexitime to employees who feel stressed.

• Offer other options, such as working from home. Employers who are more fluid in their approach to alternative working arrangements will be more respected by their teams and see better staff retention.

• Give them a role that plays to strengths. Is there an opportunity to move the employee into a position that better suits their skillset and ability? Is there a project/case they could lead on which would challenge them?

• Consider mentoring opportunities – a great mentor can provide invaluable insight, support and guidance to an employee who is struggling with their career.

• Address management issues. There’s no excuse for poor behaviour in the workplace. Bullying, harassment or just downright rude bosses need to be dealt with before you lose your staff.

• Consider employing extra staff to relieve the workload. If it’s an issue of workload overwhelm, it might be worth considering getting additional staff. This could be on a temporary or permanent basis but would ease the pressure on your current employees and enable them to be more productive, less frazzled and less likely to be off work due to stress.

• Have a clear progression pathway. Everyone wants to feel they can achieve their ambitions at work and progress. It’s part of life’s journey.

• Have an employee development plan that shows a clear training, development and progression route for each employee. This will give individuals something to aim for and ensure they are more likely to stay and grow with your law firm.
Remember – for all the above, real action is needed for your counteroffer to be successful.

Potential Pitfalls of a Counteroffer

The ‘cons’ of your counteroffer also need consideration. Things to think about include:

• Will offering a salary increase create imbalance across the team?
• Will other team members pressure for a salary rise when word gets out – and if so, can you manage expectations?
• Will you get a reputation in the market for overpaying that could lead to unsuitable candidates clamouring to join your law firm for the wrong reasons?
• Can you afford an increased financial offer?
• Will the employee take advantage of you? Will they continue performing at previous levels or become complacent, even arrogant, because they got their own way?

Moving Forward

Whatever the outcome, you may want to consider ways to improve staff retention going forward; improving company culture, opening lines of communication to provide transparency and most importantly, valuing your employees.

Moving On?

If your employee is still inclined to leave despite all reasonable negotiation, it’s probably best to agree to part ways and wish them well.

Remember, life is about change. If it’s time for them to move on, let them resign gracefully. Don’t be tempted to behave childishly – that will only get the rest of your team thinking about starting their own covert job hunt.

Instead, throw a party and thank them for their contribution.  That’s the best way to build trust and successfully manage your legal team.

Next Steps

If you’re reading this article because you are looking at ways to improve staff retention, or you want to build your legal team, call one of the Clayton Legal team on 01772 259 121 and let’s have a conversation to explore your options.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help.  Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

If you would like to know more about recruiting trends in the legal sector this year, download our latest guide here.

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