Lawyers have a higher expectation of rapid promotion than other professions, yet two thirds would take a pay cut to work in an environment that was a ‘better cultural fit’. That was the conclusion of research conducted by recruitment company Hays Legal covering 13,600 survey respondents, including around 400 lawyers.

The answers seem to reflect both the competitive character of the legal profession, and the desire to claim a better work-life balance. Of respondents to the survey, 72% of lawyers cited financial reward as a priority, compared with 66% in the total sample; a higher proportion of lawyers said they aspire to the most senior management positions (28% against a UK professional average of 21%).

Lawyers, though, are not willing to sacrifice all to pay and ambition. Two thirds of respondents said they would take a pay cut for a job that was a better cultural fit while 42% of those not actively looking for a new role would move for a better work-life balance. Nine out of ten said flexible working is important when considering a new organisation.

Ian Barker, Director at Hays Legal said: 'Undoubtedly Salary is very important to legal professionals as we can see from our new report, but employers of legal professionals really need to think beyond pay packets. The findings from our research suggest more distinct strategies are needed for talent attraction and retention and improving work-life balance is one way you can be more effective in retaining current legal talent in your organisation.'

Law firms report that flexible working has become a feature of professional life to compete over when seeking to retain and attract lawyers. A growing number of firms have built their business model on lawyers’ ambition for professional and personal priorities to co-exist.

Richard Beresford, co-founder of City corporate firm McCarthy Denning, which has no billable hours targets and where all lawyers combine flexible and agile working told the Gazette: ‘All our lawyers are remunerated solely on the basis of billable hours… they are all entitled to work when they like, for as long as they like and from wherever they like.’

He added: ‘It works well for both men and women but is a godsend for lawyers who want to juggle child care and a return to City law… Clients love it as it allows us to operate on vastly reduced overheads – the benefit of which is shared between lawyers in the form of greatly increased remuneration and clients in the form of value for money.’

Writing for the Gazette to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, LawCare chief executive Elizabeth Rimmer said: ‘There is something about the culture of law, legal education and professional practice that can make lawyers vulnerable. The culture is one known for poor work-life balance, long hours and a competitive environment. The legal profession also tends to attract perfectionist personalities, and this combination of factors can take its toll on wellbeing.’

Barker added: 'The high percentage of legal professionals who were found to be dissatisfied or indifferent with their current role suggests employers will need to prioritise a good work life-balance where possible, to ensure talent retention.'