The workplace benefits offered by the UK’s top law firms

Employee Benefits has teamed up with sister title The Lawyer to look at how law firms motivate, recruit and retain staff.


Almost 70 firms participated in The Lawyer Employee workplace benefits and wellbeing research, conducted during May 2015. More than a quarter of the firms were in regional private practice, almost a quarter in London mid-sized firms and a fifth from large London/international firms.

Overall, the results show that while in the corporate sector there is widespread adoption of many benefits, there appears to be less flexibility and innovation among law firms than might be expected, especially when the stiff competition for talent and the high cost of recruiting the best-quality candidates is taken into account.

Not surprisingly, there were some marked differences between what the largest law firms and those in London do compared with smaller firms and those in the regions.

However, it is unclear whether these differences are a result of some firms having greater financial resources and human resources expertise, stiffer competition for talent or the lifestyle choices of the lawyers.

Main findings


  • Generous paid leave, especially in London and larger firms. More than half of all law firms (and it is similar in London and the regions) provide 25 days’ paid leave each year. The figure rises to 62% when only the largest firms are considered. Yet nearly a third of firms provide more than 25 days; this is more common in regional and smaller firms. Half award extra holidays for long service but only a fifth allow staff to buy and sell holidays.

Flexible working

  • Low workflow monitoring, except in the regions. With workload being a major contributor to stress, it is surprising that only half of firms monitored employee workflow. Regional firms lead the way here, with 61% having programmes compared with 41% of London firms. Smaller firms are more likely than larger firms to monitor workflow.
  • Flexible working popular, particularly in the regions and for women. Three-quarters of all firms offer flexible working opportunities. It was available in 90% of regional firms and 86% of the largest firms. Indications are that this is adopted more by female staff than male.
  • Only a third of firms offer sabbaticals. Only a third of firms offered time off for sabbaticals, and they were slightly more popular in the regional firms. Larger firms are twice as likely to offer them.

Mental wellbeing

  • Patchy support for mental wellbeing. Two-thirds of firms have a strategy in place to support wellbeing; this was similar for London and regional firms. However, this rose to 80% for large firms and was 55% in smaller firms.
  • Minority of firms offer stress training. Only a quarter of firms provide training to help line managers support staff experiencing stress. This rose to a third of the London firms. There was no difference between large and small firms.
  • Poor mental wellbeing information. Only 17% of firms have a dedicated information service on mental wellbeing, although this increased to a third for London and larger firms.
  • More than half of law firms provide employee assistance programmes (EAPs). 60% have EAPs, which is low compared with the corporate sector (80%). Three-quarters of London firms used them compared with just more than half of regional firms.
  • A third of law firms offer other counselling services. More than a third of law firms offer counselling services, which rose to half of large firms.
  • Half of law firms provide occupational health support. Almost half provide occupational health supportand this was similar for large and small firms.
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Cash and bonuses

  • Most firms offer cash bonuses. 80% offer cash bonuses for performance. Mostly these are for individual performance.
  • Little incentive for team performance. Less than half of firms take account of team performance for bonuses.
  • Bigger bonuses in London. Almost a third of London firms reported bonuses of between £10,000 and £75,000; in the regions there were less than 5% of these.
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  • Most firms provide pensions. More than 85% of firms provide a pension. The figure was highest for London and larger firms.
  • Death of defined benefit (DB) schemes. Only 10% have a DB scheme and they are all closed to new members. Larger firms are more likely to have them than London or smaller firms.
  • Rise of the defined contribution (DC) scheme. Nearly two-thirds of firms have DC schemes and this is higher than the corporate sector.
  • Regional variations in DC scheme type. There are more group personal pensions in London (68%) than the regions, but the regions had more stakeholder pensions.
  • Larger and London firms give more generous contributions. 69% of larger firms contribute 5% or more (39% in smaller firms). 59% of London firms give 5% or more (46% of the regional firms).