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Do Patent Attorney salaries need to increase?

Salaries across the IP industry have remained static for some time, however in an ever increasing, if not nearly completely, candidate led market, we do wonder whether an uplift in pay would encourage more movement? Candidates have become acutely aware of their worth and firms are much better at retaining their staff, so any incentive for a move needs to be more of a grand gesture than a slight improvement of their current circumstance. Quite some time ago when recruiting electronics patent attorneys, firms did offer above and beyond market rate in order to secure them, however this does seem to have plateaued in recent years. It might be no coincidence that since then, the market has become even more stagnant with firms struggling with an ongoing battle to meet their demand for new hires. According to the ONS wage increases across the whole economy have remained widely unchanged over the past few years, indicating that this is not just a problem unique to the IP sector.

Workloads are increasing and firms are suffering from a lack of active candidates to help handle the burden. Firms who increase their budget for new hires may have a significant commercial advantage to those who simply offer market rate. Rather than just waiting until offer stage, firms should be advertising this fact as aggressively as possible. Placing adverts in the CIPA Journal stating the level of salary you are willing to pay, as opposed to vague job briefs, may turn the heads of passive candidates who are not currently looking for a new role, and could just be the tipping point they need to tempt them into enquiring further. Specificity is key when encouraging a tentative candidate to apply and if firms can give as much detail as possible about the attractiveness of their offer, it may just give them the edge that is needed to successfully secure a new hire. And it’s not just about a higher salary; details on how often increases occur, if they cover training costs as part of a claw back clause, are relocation costs/a ‘golden hello’ offered – these are all elements that may not necessarily push an attorney to look for a new position independently, but if they are clearly on offer elsewhere then they may plant a seed that leads to something more.

Candidates that are active in the market have a number of options to choose from and there have been instances recently where they have found themselves securing first and second interviews and an offer within a week, two at most. Of course, there are times when the candidate has a clear favourite, however when we have introduced them to a number of firms who all meet their requirements it can sometimes be difficult for them to decide which way to go. It’s in times like these that a significant uplift in pay may set one firm apart from the others. It is rare for money to be the main motivating factor for a candidate, it does happen but it is rare, but when there can sometimes be very little difference between firms the salary may just become the deciding factor. For example, if a candidate is currently stuck working with one large international client with little to no actual interaction, there are a number of other firms in the market who will be able to offer a portfolio of local direct clients and the opportunity to build the practice further with similar work. In this situation if one firm is offering the bare minimum but the other has significantly increased the candidate’s current salary, then surely the decision is self-evident? It’s also possible that offering a higher salary plays into the candidate’s perception of their own worth, i.e. that they are potentially being treated unjustly by their current firm and moving to the firm with the higher salary will result in them being better off all round.

Internal policy may of course raise concerns for firms looking to increase their pay scale for new starters, as seasoned employees will no doubt expect their own salaries to be matched to those joining the firm at the same level, or even see an increase depending on their years of service. It is uncommon for firms to share the salaries of their employees internally, however if there has been widespread promotion and advertisement of the firm’s salary promises, then it is likely that questions will be raised. There is also the issue from a legal stand point that, since the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for firms to restrict their employees from discussing their salaries with each other. So, if they do get to talking, there’s no way for the firm to hide from the fact they have broken previous precedent. The fact that firms are struggling to secure candidates in the first place and are in a position to consider drastically changing what they offer as a salary may indicate that their current remuneration strategy is actually too low. If this is the case then they may also be in danger of losing their current staff to firms who are already offering a higher rate of pay.

There has always been an assumption that salaries at regional firms, or the regional offices of larger firms, are lower than those in London. This is thought to be due to the higher cost of living, as well as the presumption that the clients and level of service can dictate a higher premium. The fact is the clients and work available in the regions can be just as lucrative as London, with plenty of opportunity to work with international industry leading technology and the chance to deal directly with local innovation. With this in mind the salaries in the regions often match if not exceed those in London, but with most assuming the contrary, it is definitely worth firms highlighting what is available if you work outside of the capital. Regional firms struggle more than most to attract candidates due to there sometimes being a very small pool of suitable attorneys to draw from. It can be difficult to convince candidates outside of the region to relocate, however if a large chunk is added to their current earnings, then they might just rethink the move.

By encouraging a conversation about salaries, we may be able to remove some of the ignorance surrounding what the norm really is and educate attorneys on their actual worth. Some attorneys will make the assumption that the earning potential at their current firm cannot be matched, or increased, elsewhere and so go on with their careers with their heads somewhat stuck in the sand. Active promotion using actual figures may encourage attorneys to reconsider their options and start a dialogue with their peers at other firms (or us) about what people are earning and what can be achieved through making a move. 

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