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What Are The Key Challenges for Law Firms in 2020?

  • February 14, 2020

Specialist legal recruiters, Clayton Legal, conduct an annual salary survey of over 4000 law firms across the UK. This gives us insight into the challenges law firms face and enables us to provide a comprehensive, streamlined and relevant service to our candidates and clients in the legal sector.

Salary surveys capture the detail of the legal marketplace in terms of remuneration offered by law firms of diverse sizes and disciplines. These surveys also highlight the current challenges faced by many firms – from small family-run solicitors to major household legal names.

In a time of political turmoil, with Brexit uncertainty, a skills shortage and a candidate-driven legal marketplace, the information available from such a report offers value and insight that can positively impact your hiring strategies, as well as provide advice on successful methods of ensuring retention of the very best legal talent in your firm.

Whether your law firm is a small family business on the high street or one of the legal 500, this information is critical to your firm’s success and will keep you ahead of the curve.

In this article, I will address the main challenges illuminated by the recent Clayton Legal salary survey that I hope you will find useful when planning your strategies for 2020.

Challenges Overview

The overall challenges for law firms as we enter 2020 lie around recruitment and retention of employees. Sourcing, attracting, hiring and retaining your legal team in a competitive sector and against a skills shortage background remain the priorities for most law firms.

A key challenge for law firms is that legal candidates are seeking higher salaries, and are often attracted by larger firms who can provide higher levels of remuneration. Consequently, many smaller firms are finding the retention of their top professionals challenging. The impact is not just in the loss of a star performer, but an inevitable increase in workload and mounting stress for the remaining team members.

Additionally, for many firms, there is a desire to expand and scale while balancing staff numbers, continuing to provide excellent service and keeping a cap on overheads. Not an easy task.

With these facts in mind, let’s take a look at the challenges exposed by our recent survey, and offer solutions to manage them successfully.

Skills Shortage

One of the main issues the survey highlighted was the current skills shortage in the legal sector.

Across all disciplines, law firms nationwide are finding it problematic to recruit to specialist areas; property, in particular, is still experiencing significant skill shortages.

Although there is a sufficient number of law graduates per se, not many have any previous experience, and there is a specific gap in the market for candidates with more than three years of PQE.

In addition, a drop in the level of general background education of candidates is reported. Firms describe inferior standards of written and verbal communication skills, including grammar, spelling and vocabulary.

With many disciplines struggling to recruit in specialist areas, law firms need to review their strategy for hiring to be able to combat this situation. So, what is the best way to attract the top legal professionals to your firm?

Attracting Talent

Securing the right legal professionals for your firm is a challenge many currently face. In a candidate led marketplace, how can you stand out above the others as a preferred employer?

Even though competition for candidates with talent and specialist experience is fierce, there are ways to attract top talent to your firm.

Although salary remains a critical factor for legal job seekers, benefits packages add value to your firm. In addition to the traditional pension contributions, flexible working and staff will-writing schemes, there has been a rise in recent years of firms looking to attract candidates by thinking ‘outside the box’.

Hence, many firms are adding additional offers to their benefits package, including duvet days, free fruit or other healthy snacks, enhanced maternity pay, and sabbaticals to attract and retain legal professionals.

Which leads me on to the third challenge.

Skills Retention

High staff turnover, a mobile workforce and increased competition from other firms are factors that you can’t ignore. So, here are three suggestions for ensuring your critical talent want to stay and grow their career with you.


We know it’s not just about salary. Wellbeing is cited as a growing area which can attract and retain talent by offering a supportive environment, excellent workplace culture and better work-life balance.

Also, with recent emphasis placed on mental health in the workplace, by cultivating a culture of wellbeing and inclusion, you will gain happier employees and consequently, higher retention rates.

It’s worth noting that a wellness programme not only builds camaraderie, but research has shown the significant benefits of regular exercise in helping to increase happiness levels and lower stress.

Learning Opportunities 

 Creating a supportive environment means actively seeking to support and nurture your legal talent throughout their career. Feedback, mentoring, recognition of achievements and a focus on lifelong learning opportunities will demonstrate investment in your employees.

LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report showed a huge 93% of employees would stay with their employer longer if an investment were made in their careers.

Offering the opportunity to develop additional skills and qualifications will demonstrate your commitment to your legal team, resulting in higher productivity and establishing your firm as an inclusive and invested employer.


Workplace diversity was one of the critical trends last year – with no signs of stopping as we head into 2020.

Proactively hiring for difference in gender, race, age, ethnicity and outlook will contribute to making your law firm diverse and encourage your legal talent to stay.

Diversity also brings in more clients, spurring economic growth as well as leading to increased innovation. Creating an excellent company culture that embraces diversity will result in a dynamic workplace that helps sow the seeds of creative ideas. Your legal team will feel valued and more likely to want to grow their career with your firm.

Implementing these benefits will improve employee engagement and heighten your chances of holding on to top performers, even against the lure of bigger salaries from the competition.


Despite the recent election win, the stark reality is that there is still a considerable number of unanswered questions in relation to the UK’s economic future, the impact of which are likely to be felt by law firms up and down the country as we go forward in 2020.

In the face of continual changes, the pressure to exploit growth opportunities while remaining agile is high – but for those law firms that can adapt and hone their attraction, hiring and retention rates, 2020 could prove the most successful year yet.

Next Steps

If you’re reading this article because you are looking to develop your legal team, or you would like a copy of our Salary Survey 2020, please call one of the Clayton Legal team on 01772 259 121.

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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