in Employers

The false economy of paying low wages

I recently took a call from a solicitors firm in the Leicestershire area looking for a new residential conveyancer to join their firm. They are a small high street practice and we have had dealings with them on numerous occasions over the years to assist with recruitment into their property team.

We had the usual discussion about how hard it was to find good conveyancers who want to stay with a practice for a period of time and then the partner reeled off a whole load of requirements that she had for the person, including quite a few issues with competency, hard working, ability to generate work, enthusiasm and stated that her maximum budget was £30,000 but they were aiming to pay c£26-28k. She thought that this was a reasonable amount to pay for the level of experience that they required.

The partner then bemoaned the fact that candidates who had joined their firm in the past didn’t seem to want to stick around. There is an old expression that applies to this particular firm – ‘no s@@t Sherlock!’ Could it be that the reason most people don’t want to stick around is because they can get paid considerably more at any other practice locally? It’s possible..

If you think about it, a salary of £30,000 for an experienced professional conveyancer able to handle their own caseload, work well with clients and be enthusiastic (!) is probably not going to want to work for very long on a salary of £30,000. In most areas of the country £30,000 is probably at the bottom end of a newly qualified solicitor salary range, and anyone experienced usually starts at about £35,000 if not more.

Paying a low wage can be a false economy and this is why:

The Cost. Every time you recruit you have to pay recruitment agents (naturally we don’t mind too much!), advertising fees and all the costs relating to starting a new member of staff.

The Time. You have to take the time to recruit, which when you think about it is going to be at least 5 hours. This will include considering CVs, arranging interviews, attending interviews, discussing salary levels, arranging start dates etc etc.

When a new member of staff starts with you there is a transition period of probably 2 if not 3 weeks where very little money is generated by them or their work as they settle in.

The person leaving will probably stop generating very much for you about 3 months before they depart and when they hand their notice in. And why not?

Every time a member of staff leaves it unsettles the rest of your staff and you can be sure that at least one of your current members of staff will be looking at job opportunities.

The office structure changes. Every time a member of staff departs and a new person comes in, the office has to get used to the new dynamics of the person joining and the person leaving, and this again is counterproductive to fee generation.

Lack of effort. You can be guaranteed that if a member of staff thinks they are not being paid enough then they will not be putting in the effort to earn your firm as much money. A well remunerated member of staff who is in a fee generation position should, in theory, work harder than a member of staff who feels put upon and exploited.

Of course quite a few of these things cannot be quantified, but when you work out in terms of hours taken to do the recruitment, is it really not worth putting up the salary by a few thousand pounds in the hope that it keeps you staff for a longer period of time and makes them more productive?

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at