Your word is your bond - counteroffers

Posted 18 Dec 2015 by Toby Williamson

Most lawyers give careful consideration to making a career move. They think about the fundamental reasons behind why they are looking to move and what they want from a new role. Usually a move centres around one or more of the following:

  • Future career prospects / progression
  • Work / Life balance
  • Lack of support
  • Money
  • Type or quality of work
  • Relocation / location

Legal Job Counteroffers

Usually the next step is to speak to a recruitment agent or apply for roles that are advertised by firms directly. Applications turn into interviews and interviews turn into offers of employment. Accepting an offer of employment is a contractual obligation, which as a lawyer should not be entered into unless you are one hundred percent committed.

Then comes the difficult bit. You meet with your current firm and explain that for various reasons you want to leave and take up an offer of employment elsewhere. Some firms get angry, make you clear your desk and show you the door. Some firms accept your resignation and make you work your notice in an awkward atmosphere. Some firms refuse to accept your resignation and try and persuade you to stay. This is what is known as a counter-offer or ‘buy back’.

Obviously legal recruitment agents have a vested interest in you moving – it is how we earn our money.

But put that to one side for a minute and think. If you have a good relationship with your firm and wanted more money / flexibility / support surely you would go and speak to them and request that before embarking on interviews with other firms? If you have not then maybe your relationship with them is not that great. If you did and they refused where has the sudden change of heart come from?

It comes from fear and panic. They thought you would never leave. Now you are.

Your current firm now has a problem. They have the disruption (and possibly embarrassment) of you leaving them coupled with the prospect of having to recruit a replacement (which could be time consuming and expensive). Add into that the prospect of them asking remaining staff to pick up your slack in the interim while they recruit and you can see it is not a very palatable prospect.

So they throw money and/or promises at you / more support, training, promote you, pay you more, let you work from home / flexibly. You are flattered. Better the devil you know – you did not realise how much they valued you...

So you stay – it is the easiest thing to do. It makes your firm happy.

3 months later (and we see it so, so often) you are being fobbed off – yes we will get support for you, leave it with us……. We are looking into IT for flexible working, leave it with us..., yes we will have a meeting about passing you some better quality work, leave it with us...  

You regret not having seen the move through. You contact the recruitment agency. Your dream job that you accepted has now been filled by someone else.

Always think about the reasons you wanted to move at the start of the process and how you felt then. Sometimes firms do make the changes you wanted and it works out. Having worked in legal recruitment for over 15 years and seen lawyers tempted by numerous buy back / counteroffer situations I can honestly say that that is the exception rather than the rule.

As a lawyer your word is your bond. If you are unhappy then speak to your current firm. If they cannot resolve things for you at that stage then start the interview / recruitment process off. When you get an offer and accept it – be professional and strong enough to be a lawyer of your word. 

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