Higher Billing Targets – Where Is Your Limit?

Lawyers’ salaries are rising (again).

Law firms are businesses; businesses need to be profitable to survive. In order for law firms to be profitable, they need to:

- Attract and retain lawyers
- Convert lawyers’ time into fees then cash
- Put targets up to cover the higher salaries and increasing overheads
- Pass on higher costs to clients (without alienating them)

Every time lawyers’ salaries have to rise, there’s an impact somewhere else - higher targets, fee increases to clients, or overhead costs cut where possible. It’s a never ending cycle and challenge.

However, we would suggest there is a limit - especially when it comes to lawyers’ fee targets (and therefore hours they have to put in).

The demand for lawyers is continuing to grow in many practice areas (property litigators - I’m looking at you). Yet the supply is limited. When this happens, salaries rise.

The majority of lawyers are busy with work and have enough clients. In other words: lawyers, you’re very attractive to rivals, who are eyeing you up to work for them. To stop you from going, your current firm ups your salary to keep you loyal - for now.

The downside: rising salaries often mean higher billing targets. Law firms need to make a profit and partners don’t want profits to drop.

Partners won’t take a pay cut to fund higher lawyer salaries either (as popular as this might be internally). Even if partner income is north of £500k. It simply doesn’t work. If partner pay goes down for more than a year or two, this sparks a recruitment and retention issue at partner level. Just as you wouldn’t buy a house which is about to lose value, you wouldn’t join a law firm where the profits are reducing either.

So it’s back to higher targets and longer working hours, which means:

- Pressure to reply to your best clients, often in your own time - to keep them happy.
- “Games” like senior lawyers cherry-picking the most profitable work.
- Sleepless nights wondering if you’ll hit your target, and get that promotion you really want.

Lawyers are getting fed up with the increasing demands, year on year.

Some of you will start to reject the higher billing targets, especially if they’re so high you think they’re unachievable.

Once this point has been reached, it’s only going to get worse, not better.

Some of you are tied to your high salary, but increasingly hate your job (and the life it’s depriving you of).

Some of you will take the plunge and move to a firm you believe strikes the right balance between what you get paid and an achievable target. Is this you?

It’s interesting that law firms increase salaries in order to retain their lawyers. But in doing so, they can finally tip some of their best people into throwing in the towel - at least with them. We're always here to help you navigate your options.

Thanks to Anna Godrey from Olsen Recruitment (website here) for this blog. Anna is a legal recruiter covering East Anglia. She posts some really insightful content on Linkedin so connect with her here.

You can contact Joe Rees on 07903222898 or joe@thorntonlegal.co.uk


Thornton Legal is a leading recruitment agency, working  in private practice across Merseyside, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands. Main locations include Liverpool, Chester, Preston, Manchester, Leeds, Shropshire and the surrounding areas. At Thornton Legal we work with partners, solicitors, paralegals and legal assistants across a range of practice areas including (but not exclusively) corporate, commercial property, residential property, employment, litigation, private client and family. 

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