It’s just after pay review time, and you’ve been given an amazing salary increase plus a generous bonus. Life is great. Or is it? That clanking sound? That’s the sound of golden handcuffs.

In the current legal market, law firms are doing everything that they can in order to fight the war on talent. One of the key strategies that we have observed is that firms are becoming more competitive with remuneration and when performance reviews take place, generous salary increases and often bonuses, soon follow. (In fact, if this isn’t happening, we need to talk).

The allure of a higher salary and lucrative bonus structures mean that some lawyers may remain with their current firm for the wrong reasons.

So, if you’ve been rewarded with an excellent pay review but feel unsettled, it’s time to kick that brilliant analytical legal mind of yours into gear and assess whether the team and firm you are working for is the best place for you and your future career, or whether you’ve just been shackled with golden handcuffs. Below are a few points worth considering.

Career Development

The first question to ask is whether the firm is taking an active interest in your career development?  Do you have a clear career pathway in place to progress through to Associate/Senior Associate/Partner? Are there any barriers in place, such as 6 other Senior Associates ahead of you in line for promotion? Does your firm have a robust training program in place and are your soft skills being developed?  In short, is the firm making an investment in your future?

Mentoring & Management

Finding a great mentor can make your career.  Even if it’s not a formal mentor, having any kind of mentorship is especially important at the junior level when you are just finding your feet.  Perhaps your mentor comes from outside of your workplace? It’s all good.

Practising law can be a lonely place if you don’t feel like you have someone who has an interest in your career or future progress.

Another critical factor to consider is how you are managed in your firm. Are there times when you feel a bit lost or conversely, do you feel like you are being micromanaged?  If you don’t feel like you are getting the right balance of management and mentoring, there may be other firms/partners better suited to your professional development.

The Work

Are you enjoying the work that you are doing? Dissatisfaction with the work is one of the key reasons lawyers look for a new role. For example sometimes lawyers get stuck on a large piece of litigation or a major due diligence that can last a long time, when they really want to be more involved in a range of smaller matters.  Others find that the direction of the practice is different to the direction they want to take in their careers.  If the work you are doing is not what you want to be doing, then it may be time to consider what practice groups in other firms are doing and whether that might suit you better. 

The Team

The colleagues that you work with every day play a significant role in the team culture. As such, it is worth reflecting on whether you are working in a cohesive team and are supported by your colleagues.


Law firms can be notoriously high pressure environments and some lawyers will spend more time with their colleagues than they do with their families. As such, culture continues to be one of the main reasons lawyers stay with their law firm; if the culture is right. However, if the culture is not right for you then it is also a key reason to consider other options.

Work life balance

It is no secret that lawyers tend to work long hours and they often become immersed in their work; it is, unfortunately, very easy to get used to and often requires unhealthy lifestyle sacrifices. Most larger law firms are now utilising technologies that can help lawyers become more flexible in how they work.

However, the downside to this flexibility is that lawyers are now expected to always be ‘on’ and find it difficult to switch off.

Therefore, extreme workloads and lack of a true work life balance might lead some lawyers to explore the market for new opportunities. It may be that a smaller/boutique law firm or an in house role with less emphasis on long hours may look better on you than a shiny set of golden handcuffs.

Your annual salary review is a great time to ensure that you are being remunerated adequately and being rewarded for your contributions. However, if you’re finding that despite excellent remuneration that you’re not feeling happy or fulfilled, then consider the fact that you may be being restrained by golden handcuffs – and remember that the only key to unlocking the golden handcuffs is choice.

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