With recent headlines about 'robot lawyers' taking the place of our traditional human solicitors, should legal professionals be worried about their job prospects? Probably not just yet, as for the second year running the Law Society Gazette’s key issues survey has identified recruitment and retention of staff as the main concern for legal practices.
Why is it an issue?
This interview from April 2016 identifies a "chronic skills shortage" due to many firms cutting training contracts between 2008 and 2012, which has resulted in “a candidate’s market”. As a consequence firms are having to do more to retain staff and can struggle to entice new recruits.
It is often said that an organisation’s greatest asset is its people. It surely follows that recognition and reward of talent should be a priority for any firm. Aside from recruitment and retention, there are sound arguments that employee engagement can also drive quality.
Have legal firms been doing enough?
In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, an HR consultant and CIPD member noted that “law firms are rubbish at HR.” The evidence is anecdotal, but it at least suggests that there has been a view within the industry that the legal sector has been lagging behind. A whitepaper from 2013 on HR in the UK legal sector found that as many as 16% of responding law firms didn’t have a formal HR strategy in place. It also notes that in response to the changes following the Legal Services Act 2007 many traditional firms have been rethinking their business strategies and aligning them with robust HR management in order to mitigate the chances of a ‘talent drain’ to ABSs.
How can firms react?
Staff turnover is inevitable, but how this is managed by an organisation is key to ensuring business continuity and sustainability. A structured and clear HR system like the framework set out in Lexcel can be valuable in achieving this, taking into account business requirements as well as employees’ concerns.
The standard has a section dedicated to people management which defines the basic policies and procedures required to provide a solid foundation for HR strategy and help a firm to avoid common pitfalls. Some elements such as role profiles, training, recruitment selection and exit interviews do need to be included in order to achieve accreditation, however the requirements flexible so that the framework is suitable for any law firm without being onerous.
Firms looking to go further might be interested in the new BS76000 standard, which was developed through consultation with a wide range of organisations including employers, ACAS, trade unions, academics and employment law experts amongst others. The premise of the standard is that a proper framework can enable organisations to capitalise on the value that people bring to their place of work in a principled and sustainable way.
There are many ways to approach recruitment and retention, but ignoring the underlying issues or throwing money at the problem aren’t sustainable solutions. Strong HR systems and strategies can create a culture which is resistant to the shocks of unexpected departures or vacant positions and help mitigate the associated concerns such as succession, training and talent spotting. An organisation that puts its people at its heart is more likely to attract and keep hold of the talent it needs to thrive.
If you are interested in how Lexcel can benefit your practice you can contact us here or call us on 0161 237 4080 for more information.