Business services professionals have taken on increasingly senior roles in law, as firms have recognised their huge contribution and their functions have grown in both size and sophistication. Many now have board-level responsibility: of the top-50 UK firms, half now have a Chief Operating Officer (COO) or equivalent. Today’s business professionals from within law – and from outside the sector too –understand the attractions of working in firms where they can make a real impact, deliver change and be part of the firm’s core decision-making group. As specialists in business services in law, we work across all levels of seniority in BD & marketing, HR, IT and finance functions, as well as other cross-functional roles in areas like project and process management, innovation and change, and general management. Our breadth of work means that we have had the privilege of supporting many talented professionals to rise through the ranks; and have helped others to transition into the sector at leadership level, often also helping them to then source their team from scratch. But we haven’t put any figures around our work at more senior levels – until now. We spend a considerable amount of time on ‘retained’ projects – this is where a law firm exclusively selects Totum to work on a particular role or roles. These projects are conducted on a retained basis because they tend to be more complex and are often more difficult to source – they are generally, therefore, more senior. By analysing our retained work, we have been able to draw a clear picture of some of the latest trends in these more senior roles in law (click here, or on the image below, to see our associated infographic).

Our findings

We researched the retained projects we’ve worked on over the past three years – since 2015. In this time, our retained work distribution has split across roles as follows: Director (45%), Head of (28%), COO/CEO/CFO type roles (20%), and other (7%). Not surprisingly, Director roles form the biggest bracket, comprising professionals working across all traditional and new business functions too. But it is interesting to see that the Chief roles (COO/CEO, etc) form nearly a quarter of our retained work – these placements have been rising steadily since Totum’s launch in 2012. As our infographic shows, we have worked with both an increasing number of firms and roles on a retained basis over the past three years. And the great news is that we are maintaining, if not increasing, our placement record on those roles – filling 91% of the roles in 2015/16, and 94% this year. Our deep knowledge of the legal sector – and many years of direct experience of working in business services in law – stands us in good stead for sourcing the best candidates at the highest levels. It is also great to see how many women are now getting shortlisted and placed in these roles. We already knew from our diversity statistics that we enjoy an equal gender balance among our candidates, if not slightly weighted towards women, with 56% female and 44% male candidates signing up with us in 2017. But this latest research has found the numbers of women rising in our retained work too. So, while in 2015/16, only 23% of shortlisted candidates for retained roles were women, in 2016/17 this figure rose to 44%, and for 2017/18, it was up again by three percentage points to 47% - almost perfect equilibrium.

A broadening talent pool

Not only that but more women are being placed in these roles. Back in 2015/16, we had a 70:30 ratio of men getting placed in these positions compared to women; this flipped to a 43:57 ratio in favour of women in 2016/7, and we have now hit a straight 50:50 in 2017/18 (see infographic for more details of figures). This is fantastic news and something to be celebrated. Professionals from other sectors are increasingly getting a look-in too. Over the three years of our research into retained projects, Totum has provided candidate shortlists with an almost exact 50:50 balance of those already working in law and candidates coming afresh from other sectors (professional services firms and beyond). There is clearly still a journey being made here – as at placement stage, most law firms are still recruiting the legal candidates: 73% compared to 27% recruited from beyond law. Law firms still like to stick with what they know, but we will continue to present candidates from other sectors where we believe they have the expertise and cultural empathy to make the appointment a success. At the same time, we don’t think that 49% of candidates shortlisted from other sectors should be underestimated. It’s a signal of intent – we can only see the number of candidates placed from other sectors rising in future. That is because we know that the demand for talented business services candidates in law far outstrips the supply from within the profession. And with firms also wanting to bring in new skills and capabilities into the sector (in project and process management, and change / innovation, for example), so are firms proving more willing to broaden their talent horizons. We have helped transition many talented senior candidates into law from other professional services firms, banking and finance, corporate, and even retail and advertising. They bring with them a different perspective that can prove hugely beneficial in a fast-changing world. They do, however, need careful integration once appointed because the law firm world still has many quirks that are not straightforward to navigate in the early days! Business services leaders in law are changing the legal profession for the better. But not just in the things they do or the skills they bring into firms. It’s who they are – a diverse bunch of forward thinkers who challenge the status-quo of how things have always been done. We are delighted and feel privileged to be part of their transformative journey. Click here to see our infographic detailing our leadership statistics in full. To view more details of our senior roles in law, visit our dedicated leadership microsite at