Setting and adjusting base salaries requires law firms to consider many factors. While initial base salaries for lawyers are often driven by external market factors, we encourage law firms to consider qualitative factors such as work quality, work ethic, and client service when determining the capability and progression of their lawyers.
To ensure that a law firm develops a market-competitive and fair compensation system that rewards the firm’s valued behaviors, we recommend a balanced approach. Within this approach, we advise firms to evaluate base salaries separate from objective rewards for economic performance. Economic contributions would be considered as one criterion among a range of qualitative criteria that are based on the firm’s culture, experience, strategic needs, client needs and financial model.
Each lawyer receives a score on a factor-based rating table. Since the importance of each factor will vary from firm to firm, it is important for each firm to clearly communicate performance expectation guidelines. In addition to setting base salary, firms can also use this rating assessment, to determine bonuses for economic and other specific qualitative contributions.
When setting compensation for more senior lawyers (8+ years), law firms should also apply profitability methods.
While there is no magic formula for setting and adjusting base salary, effective systems will encourage and reward the behaviors that ultimately contribute to the long-term success of a law firm.