For the first time in Exeter, a law firm has upped their newly-qualified salary level for Solicitors to £50K!
This feels like a real milestone, as we see law firms in Exeter continuing their competitive salary increases, with the larger firms in the area working hard to make it more and more attractive for lawyers to join them.
But what does this mean for the local legal market?
It’s incredibly exciting to see that Exeter firms can somewhat keep up with the larger cities. However, does this have a greater and more negative impact on the local market in Devon as a whole?
I am very lucky to work with nearly every law firm in Exeter, having strong relationships with both the fantastic Top 100 firms and also a number of amazing smaller-to-medium sized firms across the city and wider Devon. While the salary increases are exciting for lawyers working within the sector, I feel the gap between the top firms and the smaller firms is ever-increasing.
Exeter is known within the legal world for having a real shortage of qualified lawyers, meaning that there is fierce competition between firms to attract the best people. It is also no longer the case that working for the larger firms means “selling your soul” and having to work harder. In fact, it can be quite the opposite, as the larger firms are leading the way with hybrid-working, often giving their employees the chance to work from home 2-3 days per week. The support you often get within these larger firms is fantastic, often with shared caseloads and, in turn, shared responsibility. So, from my point of view, this argument of having to work harder for the larger firms has largely expired!
So, how can the smaller firms compete for the best people, when their salaries at newly-qualified level are often £20K (or 40%) less?
The short and simple answer is, they can’t… or at least, it’s incredibly difficult! It’s also going to become more and more difficult to compete, if this trend of bold salary increases continues.
I’m already seeing that the smaller firms are becoming smaller, while their vacancy list increases. It’s a worrying trend, but hopefully a salvageable one that just needs some bold and drastic action!
What’s the solution?
For me, the solution to this is that the market needs major investment from all the firms into training and developing more qualified lawyers… and quick! Some firms are already doing this… I’ve spoken to two firms over the past few days who have greatly increased their intake for Trainee Solicitors and are offering more people CILEx support. This has to be the way to avoid major difficulties for the smaller firms. It’s a long-term plan, but I feel it’s greatly needed.
Unless more and more firms in the area start to train and develop more people, then the competition between firms will continue increasing, salaries will continue to grow and the smaller firms will find it more and more difficult to sustain and grow.