The legal profession is all about its people and the expertise they can deliver. That means that the HR division in law also has a highly important role in helping to fulfil the potential of lawyers and business support staff across increasingly large, often global, businesses.

While generalist HR roles in law are common, recent years have seen a significant rise in specialist HR roles too, in areas like training, learning and development (L&D), diversity and inclusion (D&I), recruitment, employee wellbeing and reward/recognition. We expect this trend to continue as more firms seek specialists to bring in new and in-depth skills in key areas to support improved firm-wide performance, strong employer brand and growth.

HR leadership


Our recent research, ‘Recruitment Trends in Law Firm Business Services’, analysed all legal business support job vacancies advertised from 2015 to the end of the first half of 2018. It showed the HR function enjoying particularly buoyant recruitment activity in early 2018, compared to the same period in 2016 or 2017. This tallies with our day-to-day experience at Totum, but we can also say we remained busy into the autumn too – a typically active time for recruitment in law firm HR functions.

Law firms seriously value the ability of great people managers to get the best out of their businesses. This means that HR professionals in law enjoy good career progression right up to board-level leadership positions. At the most senior end, for example, we have helped law firms recruit new HR leaders – Heads of HR and HR Directors – but also senior positions in areas like L&D and recruitment.

These are newly created senior positions in typically larger firms, where such recruits are brought in to review the business and highlight what is needed to reach ambitious growth objectives. They have considerable responsibility to shape and build their own teams – which in turn increases opportunities for more junior professionals. Totum is often brought in to help with this further team development too.

The rise in HR specialists


Nor are these roles just among the largest firms. Smaller firms have built sophisticated HR teams too – with many creating new roles in recent times such as their first dedicated L&D role at manager level. This gives candidates the opportunity to shape the role for themselves, and to liaise directly with partners / decision makers. Some recruits have come from large law firms but, whatever the source, we tend to find that the prerequisite for success is strong influencing skills.

In recent times, we have also seen an increase in the number of firms forming a devoted D&I resource / team. This can be due to key heads moving on, opening up new opportunities, but there are also other examples of firms launching their first ever dedicated D&I role. D&I is still a key focus for firms so there is a genuine opportunity for good candidates here to make a difference. As a relatively new function, many firms are also looking outside the sector for talent, as demand outstrips the supply of candidates from within the legal profession.

In a profession known for its hard-working culture, HR teams are also taking on more responsibility for employee wellbeing, including initiatives to promote work/life balance, together with physical and mental health. Quite often this area is headed up by consultants, but we are increasingly seeing responsibility for wellness added as part of HR or L&D roles – in time we expect this to become its own area of expertise.

HR: Talent in demand


HR roles in law offer talented HR professionals the opportunity to make a real difference on a profession that is fast changing. With a rising need for specialists too, law firms are seeking talent from beyond the sector who can bring in new skills and capabilities that do not currently exist – at least not in sufficient quantity – to meet growing demand. A law firm is only ever as good as its people. HR professionals in law play a critical role in influencing business success.


Totum has published several articles in Human Times in recent weeks, looking into different aspects of business support opportunities in law. Click here if you would like to read all them all.

If you would be interested in seeing a full copy of Totum's report 'Recruitment in Law Firm Business Services', or would like to know more about HR opportunities in law, contact [email protected]


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