in Employers

I want a solicitor with a following…but how would you like it?

We get a number of smaller firms and indeed some larger ones looking for new solicitors at a fairly experienced level. Quite often they will indicate an opinion that they wouldn’t expect a solicitor with more than 5 years’ experience not to have their own following of clients.

Sometimes they give figures as to what they expect this following to generate and also say that they will not recruit anyone who has not got their own client following to come with them.

We have seen this in just about every field of law, and this has included conveyancing, immigration, family, corporate commercial, mergers and acquisitions, shipping, reinsurance and just about everything in between.

We often ask the question internally – how would this employer like it if one of their solicitors left and took clients from the firm with them?

If some of these firms and partners stopped to think about it, then in the vast majority of cases a 5 year plus PQE solicitor who manages to procure clients for a new firm that they join, is almost certainly going to be effectively poaching them from their existing firm.

In all the years I’ve been doing recruitment and working in the legal profession, which is well over 20, I have never yet known a firm who have been pleased when one of their senior solicitors has left and mentioned in passing that all their clients are going with them to a new practice. Usually there is a splutter of outrage from the partners at the existing firm if there is the slightest hint that a departing solicitor has indicated to a client that they are leaving. What also happens is that the departing solicitor is kept away from clients as much as possible during the last few months in the hope that no clients feel the need to go with them to a new practice.

How would you feel if one of your senior solicitors upped sticks and went off with half your client base to a new firm?

Do you think in the first instance that your restricted covenant in their employment contract may be utterly useless if a solicitor feels they are able to do this? If this is the case should you be looking at the clause you have drafted for your restricted covenant in all your employees’ contracts? Is your restrictive covenant enforceable against the solicitor, and if the departing solicitor has in some way attempted to deceive the clients he or she is taking with them, or has even gone so far as to steal your database, then should you be contacting the Solicitors Regulation Authority or indeed the police?

On the other hand perhaps you are delighted for the senior solicitor as they have demonstrated entrepreneurial skills and have clearly managed to secure another job by taking your firm’s clients with them. Would you shake them by the hand, congratulate them on their ingenuity and wish them all the best? Would you call all your clients who are leaving with the solicitor and thank them for all their years of custom before wishing them all the best with the new firm?

I very much suspect that the vast majority of employers would go with the former rather than the latter. If they find out one of their solicitors is leaving and taking clients with them then the first obvious thing to do would be to check their employment contract and see what the restrictive covenant says. If the restrictive covenant is pretty unequivocal, which it should be, then I suspect the next task would be for the solicitors firm to issue the departing solicitor a rather serious warning and formal letter indicating the action that they will take if any clients leave with them.

Solicitors with 5 years PQE and upwards do not have the following in the vast majority of cases, because it is physically impossible for this to occur unless they are planning to steal the database from their current clients. Is this the type of candidate that you want to recruit? Do you want them to stop with you for a few years and then steal all your clients as well before disappearing off to pastures new and earning even more money than you’ve offered them?

As we have said over the years time and time again, the only solicitors with following tend to be those who have had their own practice or worked as consultants already and developed their own following, but these do tend to be solicitors with 20 to 30 years experience or more and very specific requirements as to what they expect out of a new role, whether this is part time work, a very high percentage of the billing or a very high salary.

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 17 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 www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk