7 ways in which the best law firms are attracting and retaining top talent

June 17, 2019 | Digital Transformation | Legal | Robotics

The best law firms understand that they have to treat their employees as customers, and that means really understanding what matters to them. This article will explore some of those key drivers and how the best firms are turning them to their advantage.

1 – Smart lawyers know that the future rests with the firms that innovate

Managing Partners will sometimes complain about their people having a lack of imagination, but there is no better way to attract unimaginative people than by offering an unimaginative place of work.

Nowhere is this more apparent than through technology. Some firms are carefully but confidently exploring every opportunity available, while others are waiting patiently for someone else to take the risk.

Needless to say that talented people know which of these two categories of firm is going to succeed, and that’s the one they’re going to attach their future with. This is particularly true of young people. To a graduate now, their smartphone is merely an extension of their arm and Facebook is something that old people use. The thought that they might work somewhere that wasn’t building its future on a “digital first” strategy is entirely incomprehensible.

2 – They want to be treated as grown ups

The legal sector is famous for its rigid nature, but forward-thinking firms are increasingly demonstrating that a little flexibility can go a long way.

Innovation doesn’t always mean technology and it doesn’t always mean complexity. Recently we were in conversation with Edward O’Rourke of Ashtons Legal, and he explained that in 2015 they removed the cap on holiday so people could have as much as they wanted, just as long as they were still doing a great job.

A simple idea that was no doubt felt uncomfortable to some at first, but four years later there is no arguing with the data:

  • Average time taken for holiday has grown by 1 day.
  • Average time taken off sick has reduced by 2 days.

An example of how sometimes the simplest ideas can have the biggest impact.

3 – They want to work with people with shared values

Any law firm is just a consequence of the people within it. The best firms understand that there is nothing more important than their ability to identify the core traits that define and distinguish their best people, and design processes that embed those behaviours into the organisation’s DNA. In fact, some are now even automating key tasks within recruitment procedures and performance reviews to ensure the firm’s values are consistently placed at the heart of these processes.

One of the common misconceptions about good company values is that they should appeal to everyone. On the contrary, if they appeal to everyone they are almost certainly too vague and generic. Like a strong brand purpose or value proposition, a good set of values should alienate the majority but resonate powerfully with the ideal few.

4 – They want to spend their time applying their talents, not performing admin

Many smart young people grow up dreaming of one day becoming a lawyer. None of them grow up dreaming of typing data over and over again into a spreadsheet. And if they did, are you sure these are the people you want in your firm?

Great people want to be using their talents dealing with clients and offering creative solutions to complex problems. They want to feel they are making a difference. By introducing technology like robotic process automation to eliminate dull, repetitive tasks, you can ensure they are able to do exactly that.

5 – They want to do work that matters

Just about every law firm has a vision or purpose statement tucked away somewhere. Few of them mean anything.

Great people want to work for a company that stands for something beyond making a profit, and that’s particularly true of Millennials and Generation Z’ers. These people have grown up with unprecedented levels of security and comfort, so as per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they tend to instead be focused on higher goals such as their contribution to society. A fact that is borne out by the consumer behaviour of young people who are consistently favouring outwardly ethical brands.

The same applies to their choice of employment. They want to know that they are part of something that’s having a meaningful and positive impact on the world. In particular, they realise that change in the legal industry is inevitable and want to contribute. Do you have processes in place to capture and evaluate their ideas – trialling them quickly to assess which are worth pursuing? Forward-thinking firms are using technology such as Robotics, to allow them to create quick solutions in weeks, not years, enabling a much faster and economical rate of development.

6 – They want to feel they belong

Diversity and opportunity are important to young people who are considering working at your firm. Generic policies aren’t enough. Young people want to see evidence that they will be accepted and have an equal opportunity for advancement to the highest levels in your firm.

Having a diverse workforce, with senior staff of every race, religion, gender, and sexuality, demonstrates your commitment. Where you haven’t yet developed the level of diversity you would like, consider using more automation in your HR processes. Robots treat everyone the same and don’t discriminate. They also don’t forget probation and performance reviews, which are crucial in ensuring your best people feel listened to and cared for.

7 – They want a smooth induction

Your firm’s last opportunity to make the right impression with new talent is their first day of employment. Automation can help ensures consistency throughout the on-boarding process but it doesn’t stop there.

Central to on-boarding is company training. It doesn’t matter how experienced the person is, they must learn the way that things are done in your firm. In fact, this is perhaps even more important for experienced solicitors as they will be more inclined to do things their way. Failure to get them in line in the first few weeks will set the tone for their entire career with your firm.

One of the key features that appears to be common among the most successful firms is that there tends to be significant involvement from the Managing Partner or CEO during this on-boarding process.  This can present logistical challenges, particularly for large firms, but there are ways around that, whether via:

  • Running cohorts every few weeks so that the Managing Partner can engage with multiple people at the same time.
  • Or delivering a series of key messages via video.

 

However it’s managed, ensuring your new team members hit the ground running could not be more important, particularly from a cultural perspective. Ultimately, if they haven’t bought into the company values by lunchtime on day one, they won’t have bought into them 12 months later. You have one chance.

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