Tuesday 26 November 2013

Pay comparisons and zero hours: of perception and reality

A couple of not entirely unrelated items caught this blogger's eye over the past couple of days.  One was a comparison made by ACID CEO Dids Macdonald (here) between the average amount earned hourly by a designer and the average hourly rate of a legal practitioner; the other was a renewed discussion in the UK of the vices and virtues of zero-hour contracts, whereby a worker holds himself available to work if called upon to do so, while the employer need not call him for work and will pay him only for the work done.

Let's start with the comparison of designers' pay with legal charge-outs. There is no meaningful comparison.  What professional representatives charge clients is quite a different thing from what they earn, since that charge has to cover a proportion of all sorts of overheads, not limited to establishment costs, marketing, professional and other insurance, continuing professional education and the taking out of subscriptions to the primary resources without which work is difficult or impossible to do properly.  In addition, the day of any IP professional is inevitably split between those hours which are chargeable and those which are not.  Yes, IP practitioners will generally earn considerably more than designers even on an hourly basis, but the nature and scale of that difference should be understood and appreciated, not used as a stick with which to beat them with.

As for zero-hour contracts, this is effectively the regime under which many if not most solo and small IP practitioners operate.  The IP practitioner is primed and ready to take instructions, but there is no work unless the client calls for it. The client can also take his instructions elsewhere or change his mind about giving his work to someone who can't deal with his issues immediately, whether because he is already working on another job or because he is so foolish as to be going on holiday.

The pay-comparison and the zero-hours issues are unrelated but not quite unconnected.  Both reflect on the conditions under which solo and small practices operate and on the gap between perception and reality. Readers of this weblog have chosen their reality, but sometimes they have to sell it to themselves as well as to others.


  1. I'm a patent attorney and charge £250 per hour, but do not yet make enough to cover my costs. I don't know whether to charge more or less to improve the situation. I've accepted the uncertainty that comes with being a sole practitioner and also working with many clients that really have little understanding of how much patent attorneys need to know to get cases through the system.

  2. Not sure the first link took where it intended. Not sure if the designer was home-alone or in-house or somewhere inbetween. The internet changed things for all legal professionals. Clients (and prospective clients) with little (or no) legal knowledge can read and learn legal stuff they just didn't have access to some twenty years ago. The task of the legal professional is to be creative / add value / explain to client (and prospective client) their creativity and additional value - which is something designers have been doing for a very long time. So the interesting question is how long will it be until designers (in the UK / on average) are paid more than legal professionals (in the UK / on average) ?