Once again, Sacco Mann’s annual IP Salary Survey has produced some interesting findings. In comparison to the previous year, we had significantly more participants completing the survey, providing an even greater level of accuracy as well as more data to compare and analyse.
The UK Patent market is arguably London focused and there remains a perception that IP Professionals working in the capital will typically enjoy higher salaries than their regional counterparts. In some areas this is undeniably the case, perhaps most evident when comparing IP Support Staff salaries. Even at the most junior level, the difference in salaries is notable although hardly surprising given ever increasing commuting costs. It is widely accepted that support salaries have to be of a certain financial value to warrant travelling to the City, regardless of level of experience.
More intriguing was the closing gap between Fee Earner salaries in London and those in the regions, although maybe not so unexpected when this is given closer examination. Given the number of IP Practices concentrated in London, there seems a greater acceptance that Attorneys will move between Practices over the course of their career – there is simply more opportunity to do so. If an Attorney is committed to living in a particular region, for example Yorkshire, they will automatically have far fewer potential employers to talk to if they are considering a move. As such, our clients indicated that they would pay premium salaries both to “attract and retain good Attorneys” as, when they are looking to recruit, it can often be a longer process given that there will be fewer Attorneys already living within their area.
It was interesting that the salary gap between Senior Associates in London compared to regional Practices was surprisingly small. It is worth considering however that in a larger Practice in London, there may be as many as 10 Dual Qualified / Senior Attorneys whose years of experience vary significantly, which could push down the average salary value rather than in a smaller, regional Practice where there may be only one or two Attorneys at the more experienced and higher paid end of the spectrum.
We asked our clients for data regarding Partner salaries but we recognise that the information provided is subjective. Partner earnings vary enormously and all Partnerships are structured differently with their own idiosyncrasies and features. In our experience, we see there being more opportunity to move into a Partnership in London - there are more Practices and more Practices offer a ‘Salaried Partner’ level - but this may also reflect the salary available at this level. In comparison, there are fewer Practices and potentially less opportunity to join a Partnership in the regions but there is often a more direct route to Equity Partnerships which may explain the salaries indicated at this level.
A question we are commonly asked is about earning potential in Industry compared to salaries in Practice. As a team we are doing more work with In-house IP departments than ever before and it is clear that salaries are structured differently, with the overall package being brought into sharper focus. Often in-house positions sit within larger companies with a more sophisticated employee package: enhanced pensions, company and personal bonuses, car allowances and share options to name but a few benefits.
IP appointments in Industry are more likely to be subject to stricter internal salary bandings which perhaps is where the opinion that Industry offers lower salaries than in Practice originates. What was apparent is there are fewer job ‘types’ within Industry. For example, IP secretarial roles are almost non-existent in-house, as are graduate level Attorney roles. New hires at Part-Qualified level seem relatively few and far between; what we do see however (admittedly more within Trade Marks) are support roles blending into Part-Qualified roles and employees taking exams over a longer period of time which take them to qualification. Bearing in mind that most in-house opportunities are not in central London and so there is no ‘London weighting’ to be factored in, salaries appear to be competitive when compared with their Private Practice equivalent levels. The average salaries given may therefore reflect a greater number of years’ experience working in the sector in comparison to someone with the same level of qualification working in Practice.
Given the continued demand for those with an Electronics background, we were surprised that there were not more employers who conceded to paying higher salaries for this technical discipline. For busy companies with large caseloads in a competitive area, attracting high quality Attorneys is a continued focus and money talks! A good candidate is likely to have multiple offers and any employer who has been in this position will be all too familiar with the pressure of putting forward an attractive financial offer. Whilst salary alone is very rarely the deciding factor for candidates joining a business, it is often a crucial factor when comparing and contrasting offers to bring them closer to making a decision about where they should move to. After all, how attractive is an offer which is paying 10K less than other offers they are also considering? What we often see are Practices offering as close as possible to an existing offer, thus reducing the risk of a decision being financially influenced. This invariably means that an offer made by a Practice often reflects external factors i.e. what other comparable businesses are offering, as well as trying to take their own internal pay scales into consideration. In a Practice in London, where there are likely to be more Partners sitting across more technical disciplines, this can create extended complications as, understandably, there is a desire for salaries (especially for those who are new to the business and not yet ‘proven’) to be deemed fair, consistent and in line with salary bandings internally whilst still being competitive enough to attract top-notch Attorneys. Whilst we cannot comment accurately on how stringently internal bandings are honored within businesses, we, as IP Consultants, have all seen examples of inflated salaries being offered to secure an Attorney, and most of these examples are within the Electronics/Engineering sector. That said, there have also been instances where the same can be said for Practices recruiting in the regions, where the local market can be short of Attorneys, again reflecting what an increasingly competitive sector the IP market is to recruit in! We frequently see our clients trying to find the right balance between paying premium salaries and being able to justify that bigger investment with adequate commercial return on it. In our view, it will continue to depend on individual circumstances; the way in which we represent employers, as well as the way in which they engage with both existing and potential employees, will be increasingly important.
With nearly all employers confirming that they offer a form of employee bonus, the way that they are structured and the rewards they can generate seem to vary greatly. Personal performance was the most common reason to pay a bonus UK-wide and employment in London offers considerably more chance for all employees to earn a bonus rather than Fee Earners alone, which is more common in the regions. In the main, bonuses were awarded for performance against a predefined target although discretionary bonuses still account for a significant proportion of those paid out. Targets against ‘Hours’ and ‘Billings’ were the biggest factor influencing bonuses although we know from speaking to Attorneys that these targets and the financial rewards associated vary hugely from firm to firm. In Industry, a significant amount of an employee bonus will often be attributed to the company’s financial performance that year and the remaining element which that employee can directly influence will reflect their performance against set personal objectives.
Basic salaries do differ across employers, although in a highly competitive, candidate-short market, wild fluctuations are few and far between. What we do tend to see is a trade off between firms offering a more modest basic with a stronger bonus structure, versus firms offering a higher basic paired with a less sophisticated or indeed a harder to achieve bonus structure. Ultimately, it is then for the Attorney to decide what motivates them more – also giving their potential employer a useful insight to their psyche for future development.
We are grateful to our clients for taking the time to complete our salary survey and welcome your thoughts and comments as well as suggestions for our next one! If you do have any queries about the survey or any other area of IP recruitment, please speak to one of our experienced consultants in our Patent and Trade Mark Division on 0203 440 5628 / 0113 245 3338 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To access all the full survey results please click here.