2015 Annual law firms’ survey

2015 has seen recruitment and retention firmly back on the people agenda, with the war for talent bringing disruption to reward strategies, particularly amongst the larger firms. With US firms recruiting aggressively, and lateral moves between law firms prevalent, it is essential that firms invest in and articulate the broad proposition for staff. Career development, working environment, culture, strategy, and quality of client work are all influential elements that sit alongside total reward.

  • Average fee earner headcount has increased by between 1% (Top 10) and 7% (Top 26-50) although firms are continuing to closely manage equity partner numbers.
  • Last year’s marked increase in average chargeable hours, across all grades and groups of firms, has not continued with a much more mixed set of results in 2015.
  • The average excess headcount across all grades for Top 10 firms has reduced to 7% (2014: 9% ). The Top 11-25 firms have seen no improvement with excess headcount remaining at 12%. For Top 26-50 firms, the gap is higher at 17% (2015: 18%).
  • Our survey shows an increase in staff turnover rates. With increased competition for talent, including from US firms, UK firms need to invest in and articulate their proposition for staff.
  • Some firms are adopting increasingly diverse headcount models, with greater use of paralegals and experimentation with contract lawyers.
  • Women still only account for 17% (2014: 17%) of full equity partners in Top 10 firms and 16% (2014: 15%) in Top 11-25 firms with individual firm percentages ranging from 2% to 28%. The overall trend makes it likely that the impending launch of gender pay gap reporting will reflect poorly on law firms.