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