The Benefits and Perils of a Counter-Offer

01 December 2023 Kirra Gaskell

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In this dynamic and competitive field, the decision to switch roles can be a complex and weighty one. As lawyers contemplate their options, the prospect of a counter-offer from their current employer creates an additional layer of complexity to the decision-making process.

Counter-offers have become a common strategy for firms aiming to retain talented legal professionals. When faced with the imminent departure of a valued team member, employers often extend tempting offers in a bid to retain their expertise. These offers may include salary increases, enhanced benefits, indications of more challenging and rewarding work, or even promises of fast-tracked promotion.

Benefits of Accepting a Counter-Offer

One of the primary benefits of accepting a counter-offer is the potential for a significant salary increase and of course the security of not having to face the unknown in a new workplace.

Counter-offers may also come with promises of career advancement, such as the opportunity to work on high-profile matters or take on leadership roles within the firm. A large percentage of lawyers have expressed that they have been heavily enticed by the promise of career growth.

Perils Lurking Beneath the Surface

While counter-offers may seem like an attractive solution, their impact may not always be as enduring as anticipated.

An increase in salary to retain an employee now may not be what it takes to hold them long term, as the employer may later state that the retention increase has been absorbed into any annual performance increase, leaving them behind the eight ball.

Despite promises of career advancement, a large volume of lawyers who accepted counter-offers found the commitments made by their employers were not fully realised. This led to dissatisfaction and a sense of unmet expectations as well as a temporary delay in career growth.

Accepting a counter-offer may strain the relationship between the lawyer and their employer. The fact that the individual was actively seeking other opportunities can create a sense of distrust, making it challenging to rebuild a strong professional bond.

If a counter-offer surpasses the market rate for someone above their actual post-admission experience, this often results in elevated expectations and performance pressure for the lawyer. The logic is straightforward: the more an employer invests in an employee's salary, the greater the expectation that this individual will need to deliver results commensurate with that increased cost. Consequently, this can lead to amplified stress, longer hours, and an intensified workload to justify the compensation, creating a delicate tightrope between financial gain and professional demands.

A significant portion of lawyers who accepted counter-offers from their employer re-entered the market within 6 to 12 months, with a renewed decision to leave anyway. This suggests that while the short-term benefits may be enticing, they might not be sufficient to address the underlying reasons that prompted the individual to consider leaving in the first place.

Some Honest Advice

It is unwise to incite a bidding war where interested employers are pitted against each other”.

Before interviewing, gain a commercially objective understanding of the market and remain close to that based on your level. It's no secret that money is essential as we need it to pay our bills, provide for ourselves and our family, as well as enjoy the occasional luxury. But it should not be the sole reason to accept a position, nor to remain in an otherwise unfulfilling role.

Before any offers are communicated, take the financial elements out of initial consideration and assume the money from each employerwill be the same.

This allows the considerations to be focussed on the nature of the work; resources of the firm; workplace culture; flexibility and flexible work options; path to promotion; the work space and its impact on your creativity or productivity; as well as mentorship and how it may or may not enhance your professional knowledge.

The decision to accept or decline a counter-offer in the legal profession is multifaceted, with financial incentives and promises of career growth on one side, and the potential for unfulfilled expectations and strained relationships on the other. As lawyers consider what is best for them, it is crucial to weigh the immediate advantages against the long-term implications and the impact or influence this may have on their careers.

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Authors - Kirra Gaskell, Bianca Davies

Editor - Craig Ashton-Sward