UK legal workers expect a pay rise, but is that realistic?

CV-Library recently released the results of a survey of 1100 UK workers, and found that 41% expect a pay rise within the next year. Legal workers seem especially confident, as four fifths of respondents from the legal sector reported this expectation. But how realistic is it for so many employees to expect salary increases, given the extensive impact of COVID-19 and the economic uncertainty of Brexit?

How COVID-19 has affected the legal sector

First, employees had to deal with the “new normal”. Now, it’s the return to work. There’s no business that hasn’t been affected by the events of recent months, and like virtually every other industry grappling with social distancing, the legal sector is been slowed down significantly over the course of the lockdown. As a result, some large firms have already slashed the salaries of their junior associates.

Interestingly, there does seem to be some reason for optimism. For starters, conveyancing firms have been steadily bouncing back since June. This is a huge relief considering that, according to a report by DPS software, research suggests conveyancing has been the practice area hit hardest by the economic impact of COVID-19, along with many small firms across the board.

While many practice areas are ‘…set for a big boost as lockdown is eased,’ 15% of firms have already had to make redundancies. As a result, the job market may become noticeably more competitive. This could be quite the hurdle, as it’s possible these UK legal workers expect a pay rise as a result of future salary negotiations.

Given its importance during lockdown, it’s likely that remote work will continue to play a major role in the legal sector and other businesses. A permanent increase in the number of remote positions would allow legal workers to widen their search. But a wider pool of candidates could serve to make applications for some positions even more competitive.

The combined impact of COVID-19 and Brexit on UK businesses

With the possibility of a no-deal Brexit still as real as ever, there remains a lot of economic uncertainty for the UK, especially as we continue under the strain of COVID-19. It’s worth noting that Brexit may force firms to consolidate with each other, as well as practices in other countries, to enable UK law firms to continue to operate internationally.

However, there is one unfortunately quite macabre way COVID-19 may actually benefit the legal sector. According to that report from DPS, certain practice areas are likely to see a surge in demand as a result of the backlog of cases built up during lockdown and the swathes of redundancies affecting UK workers. Given how stressful lockdown was, there could even be a rise in demand for divorce lawyers. For practice areas like these, this is probably the strongest reasoning for the fact that so many UK legal workers expect a pay rise.

Why managing employee expectations matters

Employee expectations play a significant role in engagement. There’s a level mutual expectation between an employer and employee. Just as a staff member failing to live up to their boss’s expectations can be grounds for dismissal, an employer failing to match the expectations of their employees can cause said employees to become disengaged.

Setting expectations early on and following through is an important part of trust and communication in the workplace. Given how turbulent the UK is at the moment, to an outside observer, the fact that so many UK legal workers expect a pay rise within the next year may seem a little odd. It’s important to consider what role leaders within your firm may have played in setting this expectation.

Regardless of how confident you feel that you’ll be able to give your firm’s employees raises across the board in the near future, it’s important to keep expectations grounded, especially at times like this. While some of your firm’s employees may be disappointed that they can’t necessarily expect a raise in the immediate future, that disappointment can be much worse and more damaging if the expectation is left to build up over time. That’s why transparency is generally the best approach.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that some in the legal sector will secure pay increases. But if everyone’s expecting them, the perceived unfairness of only some people getting them could cause issues for morale in law firms, similarly to how financial incentives can sow discord in the workplace.


This article was submitted to be published by Weekly10 as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Conveyancer. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Conveyancer.

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