We, at the BDLN, believe that recruitment will be the biggest challenge for professional services firms over the next 10 years. Firms that do not make themselves attractive to young talent will be quickly overtaken by organisations that not only understand how to lure the best but also know how to keep them.
Lancashire law firm Harrison Drury believes this too. “It’s about making the work environment the best it can possibly be,” says managing partner, John Chesworth. “People who are happy at work aren’t looking for jobs. It’s that simple. It’s also important to create advocates who sing about your brand. I’m involved in something called Vistage – a cross-industry group of chief execs – and what comes out over and over again in our discussions is the importance of attracting the right people.”
As part of its drive to improve recruitment and retention, Harrison Drury entered the judging process this year for the Sunday Times ‘Best 100 Companies to Work For’ list. It entered so that it could use the results as a “roadmap for improving employee engagement”. Every organisation that enters is thoroughly surveyed and then receives the results, allowing it to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Harrison Drury saw 2016 – the first time it had entered – as a starting point, so was somewhat taken aback to reach the top 40 at their first attempt.
All those clichés on firms’ websites – ‘dynamic’, ‘caring’, ‘brilliant client service’ – on paper they’re all great for attracting good people, but [many firms] don’t take active steps to turn them into reality
In fact, there are precious few professional services firms in the Sunday Times ‘Best 100 Companies to Work For’ list at all, and the BDLN has been speaking to those that snuck in. Tellingly, one thing they all have in common is the desire to face up to weaknesses and to change for the better in order to become more attractive to employees. That hunger – as opposed to sitting back assuming that talent will walk through the door – can make the difference between hiring the best people and losing them to rivals.
“All those clichés on firms’ websites – ‘dynamic’, ‘caring’, ‘brilliant client service’ – on paper they’re all great for attracting good people,” says John, “but what many firms do is leave them as aspirations. They don’t take active steps day in day out in an organised way to turn them into reality.”
One way to create the right environment for successful recruitment and retention, believes John, is to set the right tone and attitude at the top. “This is a tough job,” he says, “people have done a lot to get into the legal profession; especially young graduates today who take on a lot of debt. They’re going to work hard and must spend a lot of time at work. So we owe it to them to make it a comfortable environment where they want to spend their time. Part and parcel of that is showing your human side and proving that you care about them. You have a responsibility to help them progress along their career path. We’re not social workers, but we need to be supportive both inside and outside the office. We have to understand what makes them tick and respond to their needs.”
We’re not social workers, but we need to be supportive both inside and outside the office
This caring approach is a million miles from the professional services firms of old, where unapproachable partners hid behind permanently closed office doors and staff were expected to consistently sacrifice their family life for work. Things have changed, argues John. Today, firms must go out of their way to appeal to talented individuals and encourage work life balance.
“Two employees recently announced they were pregnant,” he says. “We treated it as an opportunity to improve our maternity package. More women than men are entering the legal profession than ever before, and we don’t want them to be frightened about having children and worrying about how it might impact on their careers. So we asked our two employees what they would like their maternity leave to look like; money no object. We made it clear we couldn’t promise everything but said ‘let’s work together to come up with some new ideas’. They requested flexible working and ‘keep-in-touch’ days during leave. We’ve now put those things into a new package and will keep on trying to improve it.
“For us, the personal needs of our people are not incompatible with the business. If we support our people, we’ll win their loyalty.”
We don’t want [a] trainee solicitor to get a phone call from a recruiter telling them they’re being paid 10k too little
Harrison Drury has also set up a remuneration committee whose job it is to keep an eye on the market to ensure that the firm doesn’t get caught out underpaying its staff. “What we don’t want to happen is for a brilliant trainee solicitor to get a phone call from a recruiter telling them they’re being paid 10k too little. That trainee would lose all faith in the firm. We can’t allow that to happen.”
It’s that attitude – the strong desire to provide the very best environment for your employees – that makes an organisation attractive to the newest and finest talent. Without embedding that attitude into your firm’s culture, you could soon find yourself going backwards and losing your best talent to the competition.
Written and edited by the BDLN.com