Our HR team at Totum was delighted to host the first of our Head of HR breakfast seminars on 2 July at Canto Corvino in London. It was chaired by Nikki Leatherland, Head of HR, at Peters & Peters. While business services job titles in the legal profession vary depending on the size and ethos of the firm, we noticed a distinct lack of networking opportunities specifically targeting legal ‘Heads of HR’. This is something that our HR & Operations Team (Laura McNair and Roisin Ashmore) are keen to address, starting with this, our first ‘Head of HR’ networking event. The focus of these events is to provide a different perspective on topical issues, to encourage debate and knowledge sharing, as well as provide the opportunity to meet and share experiences with others at a similar level. We hope to bridge the gap between those established in senior leadership positions and those who, perhaps, are leading the function for the first time. For the first meeting, the agenda item was salaries, employee engagement and wellbeing. But the subject we covered in real detail was salaries and agile working!

Points of discussion

  1. There was agreement that some of the lawyer starting salaries of £100k+ are beyond the reach of small to mid-size law firms. These firms have to offer other benefits to compete with the salaries of these largest firms.
  2. Salary reviews typically take place on 1 January or 1 September once salary benchmarking information has come in (see below).
  3. The merits of performance related pay was discussed, which not all the firms have adopted. Some continue to use post-qualified experience (PQE) and both approaches were seen to have advantages.
  4. Most of the attendee firms publish their salary ranges bar one. Most publish bands up to eight years PQE. For some there is a squeeze in the middle, where in some instances Partners are not paid much more than experienced Senior Associates and it is a concern for retention.
Benchmarking is key – all firms use a variety including salary and benefit providers, recruitment agency data, information from joiners and leavers, Roll on Friday, etc. One firm shared their attrition rates. The firms agreed that they do not lose people for money – in fact, many are now taking a pay cut for better work / life balance. Money is no longer the primary motivator. Average billable hours range from 1,650 – 1,900hrs and bonuses are typically 20 – 30%. Bonuses are typically quite complicated and involve HR and Finance. Most UK firms include a firm-wide bonus regardless of performance, and this bonus is also applicable to business services teams. Employees can enhance their bonuses with outstanding contributions to key firm-wide initiatives – for example, diversity, CSR, graduate recruitment.

Alternatives to partnership

It was also clear from the discussion that partnership is no longer the only career route for lawyers. Roles such as Technical Director or Counsel / Senior Counsel are increasingly popular and seen as a genuine alternative career path. All firms offered alternatives to partnership – for example a career associate model with slightly less targeted hours. The general expectations of a Senior Counsel or a Legal Director is to:
  • Manage a team.
  • Be a technical expert.
  • Have the same or slightly less chargeable hours than a Partner but fewer BD responsibilities.
  • Deliver billings of four times their salary.
  • Have bespoke objectives.

Workplace flexibility

There were stark differences in approaches to agile working. All had agile working policies and procedures in place but there was a broad spectrum in terms of levels of cultural acceptance. All agreed that technology had enabled agile working, and some firms have started training for managers on how to manage flexible working teams and provided guidance on working remotely. One firm had introduced a policy to work from home two days a month, without requiring permission (although they did need to be within reasonable distance of London if required to go in). Many of the ‘Heads of’ agreed they would like to see their agile working policies go further but accepted the current ‘gentle introduction’. Some groups were exempt from this approach as the roles do not lend themselves to homeworking i.e. PAs/Reception/ office services. All agreed they needed more role models and for Partners to champion flexibility. One US firm give their lawyers $400 every year to set up their home offices, but this was not the case in the UK firms. Time ran out but there was still a lot to be said and share. What was apparent was the huge appetite for a group like this, where senior HR professionals can share ideas and provide support to each other. We look forward to building on this very successful event and making this the start of something long-term. For any ‘Heads of HR’ from small to mid-sized law firms or professional services firms who may be interested in attending our future HR networking events, please contact Laura McNair. For more information on recruiting HR & operational roles, please contact Laura McNair [email protected] or [email protected]