Totum Consultants Laura McNair and Elliot Nash, who recruit across all levels of HR roles, as well as broader positions in general management, were recently delighted to host their quarterly breakfast roundtable for Heads of HR from a variety of small to mid-sized law firms. As ever with these events, the conversation covered a huge amount of ground in a small amount of time. It was clear that today’s HR teams in law touch upon every aspect of today’s successful legal business. Here are some of the discussion highlights:
  1. Attendees agreed that HR team structure differs between firms depending on the size of the business and leadership buy-in. In general, most firms have a Head of HR/Director, HR Manager, Assistant HR Manager and HR administrator in common. As many work in small HR teams, everyone tends to be a generalist, so work is shared out. However, once an office has reached a particular size, its typical for the scope of some HR roles to be more specialised i.e. Business Partner or Recruitment Manager. However, it was agreed that Heads would still try to find opportunities (or projects) for someone with a particular interest / skill or experience even if outside the scope of their job role. Attendees also agreed on the importance of allowing roles to evolve as priorities change or new people join the team. Others discussed the need to meet team expectations in terms of stretching them via new challenges.
  2. Some discussion was given to the Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE), which will change the way solicitors qualify from 2021. Many firms have not yet firmed up their plans in managing this change, although it was said that the Magic Circle firms and some US firms have formed a consortium to review the process, including suggestions to provide top-up training and continue with seat rotations. Many agreed they were going to see what the larger/magic circle firms are putting in place before making their own final decisions.
  3. The HR teams attending agreed that they are responding to a rising demand from fee earners and associates to create a feedback culture as part of the review process, including upward feedback. Nearly everyone in the room said their firms do, or are at least trying to implement, some form of 360-degree feedback. Many use performance software such as Objective Manager – with some using it as a normal part of their performance appraisal process. There was agreement, however, that it is very important to be managed in the right way. Others highlighted the need for a continuous feedback process and there was general agreement that tools like Objective Manager are not enough. Culture needs to change with regular check-in points, conversations and face-to-face contact throughout the year.
  4. Some discussion was given to the Mindful Business Charter and whether firms that have signed up had noticed a change in behaviour. There was some positive feedback here, with a number of attendees saying that since signing up, managers had become more mindful, for example, setting realistic deadlines, planning meetings, not requiring staff to work on their non-working days and allowing everyone a non-negotiable red line for something that can’t be missed. Others had seen improvements in Partners’ behaviour where they have been more considerate, respectful and open with their communication. Most agreed that it’s a big change programme but liked the fact that the Charter encourages small but achievable incremental changes.
  5. Equal pay legislation features on the HR agenda of all the firms attending. Not all of them are legally required to report their Gender Pay Gap as they are under the 250-employee threshold, but some are planning to report on that, as well as the Ethnicity Pay Gap. One firm has introduced a sponsorship programme to support talented female partners, giving them practical help rather than just career advice. Quite often the pay gap is skewed because of the number of females in PA and junior business services roles. Interestingly, some firms have changed the PA title to Client Services Executive (or similar) to encourage a higher take up of men, as well as giving PAs a wider role.
The discussion could have continued for longer, but attendees felt that valuable time had been given to share ideas and gain insights to take back to their own working lives. We would like to thank all of those who took part and we look forward to seeing you at the next one. 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 any HR professionals from law or professional services firms who may be interested in attending our future events, please contact Laura McNair. For more information on recruiting HR & operational roles, please contact Laura McNair at [email protected]