Rewarded by results
The recent decisions of several law firms to bring in merit-based pay systems for assistants have led some in the profession to speculate that pay based on post-qualification experience (PQE) might have had its day.We investigate the arguments for and against merit-based pay, look at how firms evaluate performance and speak to assistants to gauge their views on the topic.Merit versus PQENorton Rose recently made the move to implement merit-based pay at all levels from newly-qualified (NQ) upwards, replacing the traditional PQE gradings with a three-tier system that divides assistants into categories known as Associate 1, Associate 2 and Senior Associate. Assistants are paid and charged out according to the new categories.Managing partner Deirdre Walker explains the reasoning behind the firm's decision to adopt the model. "The PQE approach is antiquated and often simply not fair. Why should a really excellent one- or two-year qualified lawyer earn less than someone mediocre who just happens to have more experience than they do?" She adds that recently introduced age discrimination legislation played a part in the decision. "It was a factor, but not the driving one. As I understand it, legal opinion is still very much divided on whether PQE will fall foul of the new laws."David Gray, managing partner of Eversheds, which is in the process of bringing in performance-related pay for its assistants, also downplays the significance of the legislation. However, he believes that it is important to have a remuneration structure that allows flexibility in terms of how mature assistants are paid. "Say you have one three-year PQE who has 15 years' experience in another profession and is very capable with clients, and another who has come straight from university. Clearly it is a good idea to have a pay structure in place that allows you to pay the first guy more."Ashurst is another high-profile merit-based pay convert, while across the Atlantic, Howrey became the first firm in the US to adopt a totally merit-based structure earlier this month.
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