This happens more frequently than assumed, and it happens mostly without even planning it. Many times when associates come into the market, they come more or less with a legitimate reason, or at least one legitimate reason among others that are less so. During the process by which the candidate determines whom to speak with and what parameters to set, and consequently what sort of offer and understandings are put on the table, the legitimate reasons that the associate had to consider moving tend to be successfully addressed. When an associate signals that he or she is prepared to leave for a new position, assuming that the candidate has done well at his or her firm, the firm will attempt to come up with ways to keep the associate, and may quickly address the legitimate concerns that drove the associate to consider the move in the first place. Once the current firm puts a new set of understandings on the table, the candidate will logically be warm and fuzzy about how the firm responded and how far they’ve gone to make it attractive to him so that he could stay. There’s a good chance that on the basis of that, he will feel like he should remain put. Assuming the associate stays and declines the new offer, it would be reasonable to conclude that s/he has bettered his/her lot exclusively as a function (whether intentionally or not) of the offer that was declined.
At this point, different people will have different opinions as to whether the associate showed good judgement by staying, as a function of the counter-offer. And it is the opinion of HLI that it’s hard to be categorical on whether this is a good judgement or not. The key, however, to determine whether it was a good judgement to stay is not so much to focus on whether a particular item or grievance was effectively addressed or redressed – to do that would be to focus a little too much on the band-aid and not the wound. The key is to focus on what circumstances created the original grievance and whether those circumstances have been effectively addressed and redressed. In most instances, a counter-offer will focus only on the actual grievance and not on the ‘original sin’ that created the grievance or grievances.
Say, an associate was put on a lower class at X firm and upon resigning (after securing an offer from Y for a higher class) and X firm produces a counter-offer with that higher class. While the counter-offer may now be as strong as the offer, the original problem – namely that the lawyer was thought of as weaker than his peers, so as to put him in a lower class – may still remain, even though the firm may have countered the offer. It is important, then, to ensure that the original, underlying problem has also been fixed before being seduced by the band-aid. Original problems tend not to be fixed quickly (and most times tend not to be fixed at all), or if they are, it usually takes years.