Why UK law firms are still caught between lockstep and a hard place

As Clifford Chance this month voted once again to overhaul its lockstep, could too much reform prove counterproductive to magic circle firms?

The topic of lockstep compensation somehow manages to be simultaneously divisive, critically important, and – for those not writing the cheques or cashing them – numbingly boring. I sympathise. But bear with me.

The elite UK law firms have spent years trying to inject some much-needed flexibility into what is an inherently inflexible remuneration system, with varying degrees of success. They have tried bonuses, differential locksteps for international offices, and so-called super-point packages, which are used to reward star performers. Perhaps most effectively, managers typically now have the ability to alter an individual’s equity share – by holding a partner at a certain level on the ‘ladder’ for more than one year, accelerating their progression, or even reducing their points, if necessary.

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