Talent at top

Leadership roles are always tricky to recruit because organisations all need different qualities from their most senior staff. But it is arguably even more difficult when placing business leaders in law because business services functions have grown so rapidly, requiring a similarly speedy development in capabilities from those that head them up.

Research and findings

Recruitment firm Totum recently conducted research, ‘Recruitment trends in law firm business services’, which analysed data covering all legal business services job vacancies advertised between 2015 to 2018. The findings show that business services roles across all functions have increased: they now account for over 15% of law firm vacancies, up from 13% at the beginning of 2016. This is quite a shift from the days when business services functions were typically run by just one person! But this growth has also put more demand on those directors heading up these functions. Not only do they have significant responsibility to support the development of their own teams, but they also have to work hard to integrate them effectively into other functions across the firm so that they can collectively deliver against overall strategic objectives. This has consequently pushed functional business leaders up the seniority chain – as they have proved their value in improving internal operations and strategic thinking, as well as positively impacting the external-facing business in areas like brand, reputation, client relationships and pricing mechanisms. Further research conducted by Totum looking specifically at leadership placements since 2015 show that:
  1. The number of Totum’s leadership placements has increased over the past three years, and many of them are now at board level: of the top-50 UK firms, half now have a Chief Operating Officer (COO) or equivalent.
  2. Leadership roles from 2015 to 2018 split (on average) as follows: Director (45%), Head of (28%), COO/CEO/CFO type roles (20%), and other (7%). It is striking that COO/CEO roles now form nearly a quarter of Totum’s leadership work. These roles did not even exist in many firms just 10 years ago.
  3. Nearly half of the candidates shortlisted by Totum are now women, and an equal balance of men and women are now getting placed in leadership roles too.
  4. More leadership candidates come from other sectors. Nearly half (49%) of shortlisted candidates now come from other professional sectors or beyond – and nearly a third of leadership placements are with candidates from outside of law.

The recruitment challenge

These last two points are particularly interesting. With business services leadership appointments fast growing, law firms have had to take a more diverse view of the talent pool in order to successfully fill these critical roles. Embracing female talent, as well as new capabilities that other sectors can offer, is an increasingly common feature of leadership recruitment in the legal sector. It doesn’t make the job easier, however. Success in attracting and retaining the best candidates from further afield requires a sophisticated understanding of broader market expectations, an ability to compete across industry for talent, and a deep understanding of your own short and long-term strategic goals. With leadership roles, it is not uncommon for Totum to spend considerable time with clients providing market insights, helping to scope out roles and advising on effective interview processes before going out to source candidates. Totum will also stay on hand throughout, working closely with candidates and law firms to clear the path along what is typically a longer interview route.

The ‘How to guides’ to leadership recruitment

But while leadership recruitment always requires a tailored approach, there are still common steps along the way that can ease the journey to the best match. That is why Totum has applied its expertise in leadership recruitment to create a comprehensive suite of ‘How to guides’ to assist law firms in their search for critical leadership roles across business services functions. Each guide takes an individual role – such as COO, CEO, CMO, CFO and director positions across functions – and provides guidance on information to share with candidates, a template for scoping out roles, insights into reporting / firm structure for the role, tips for structuring the interview process, and example job descriptions, etc. They are not designed as the be-all-and-end-all of effective leadership recruitment, but they are intended to help firms approach these critical roles with the right mind-set and basic framework in place. Business services leadership recruitment in law isn’t easy but it is exciting, offering legal business the capabilities to transform to meet the ever-changing demands of the 21st century. Those firms that have the right leaders in place in this critical time of flux, will be the ones that can adapt to embrace the opportunities of the future. If you would like to know more about business services leadership opportunities in the legal profession, or obtain a copy of one of our 'How to guides', please contact [email protected]