The way that law firms recruited and operated was very different back in the 1980’s compared to today. Those 30 odd years may have gone very quickly for some, but things have changed dramatically. If we look at how our employment culture has developed, from the Equal Pay Act brought in during the 1970’s to more current implementation GDPR data changes, the unpredictable market of post Brexit Britian and the ever-increasing cost of living across the UK, it’s easy to see why law firms have been forced to adapt and improve the way they find, employ and retain legal professionals.
Nowadays, we see law firms with a huge presence across the globe and with domestic law firms expanding across the world, overseas hiring is happening more than ever. With this internationalisation it’s easy to see how the recruitment of legal professionals has changed. The ability to expand across the pond or train budding solicitors from abroad means that firms and their recruitment teams now have more choice than ever. This allows them to find more quality employees to join their firm or business.
30 years ago there was no email, no mobiles and barely any computers on desks. The only means of communication was via post, phone and fax. Email has transformed the business world works increasing efficiency. Before the internet, everyone made phone calls to discuss and agree events, today people email. Understandably people find this a less personal approach as it can be read in a multitude of different tones. Problems can occur when the wrong information is sent to the wrong person at the touch of a button. All those years ago, you would simply retrieve the letter from the post room. Today, it’s not that simple. Similarly, when recruiting, CV’s were sent by hand and ATS systems were a futuristic dream. Nowadays candidates are categorised into databases, losing that personal touch but making the process much quicker and cost-effective.
Salaries and living costs
Years ago a newly qualified solicitor would earn less than £8,000 but a flat in South London would cost £45,000 Compared to now with average earning around £54,000 (and those same South London flats now valued at £7,800,000). Law firms in expensive Cities must be more competitive with salaries, particularly in larger cities such as London and Manchester. This also correlates with the growth of Northern firms such as DLA Piper which began in the North. The firm has now conquered London and is currently one of the biggest in the world with a turnover of billions, still employing hundreds across their Leeds, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Manchester offices.
In-house law was seen as the poorer relation of private practice, many lawyers would see this as proof that ‘they couldn’t make it in practice’. Salary levels in-house were considerably lower than law firms and in many instances, the role of in-house counsel was to simply pass the work from line managers directly to the law firms. Essentially, a middleman. This area has seen a dramatic change. Top in-house counsel is now highly rated and roles today attract the very best lawyers. In-house solicitors now make up 25% of all solicitors and this is set to rise to 35% by 2020. It’s now very popular to go in-house and has become the preferred option for many lawyers. With larger companies needed to be more cost efficient and forward thinking the need for an in-house lawyer has increased. When recruiting for this role they must be sure to hire a person with the attributes needed. Most companies hire a generalist who is skilful and experienced in managing outside counsel as needed. If you feel a specialist in-house is needed, then there needs to be a sure plan in place to make sure the other legal issues get addressed properly. This can be a more difficult role to recruit for over firms.
The industry used to come under wide criticism due to its lack of diversity. Law firms would often request ‘male only’ lawyers or those from a particular school. Advertising in the press would be as specific as: “Young lawyers sought, 24-26 years old, 1-2 years post-qualified experience (PQE) and ideally male”. Now we’re in 2018 and with the gender pay gap constantly under scrutiny in all industries, women now make up 47% of solicitors (Solicitors Regulation Authority, 2015) and females makeup 68% of law graduates in the UK. Previously, the number of female partners in the bigger firms could be counted on one hand, whereas women now make up 33%. By becoming more diverse the industry has widened the talent pool allowing for more innovation and creativity.
As attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals work beyond retirement age, many law firms and legal departments are trying to balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between the oldest and youngest employees. Four generations working together in the same work environment present new workforce dynamics and challenges. The imminent exodus of almost 80 million retiring Baby Boomers and the entry of Generation Z (those born between 1991 and 2012) will continue to change workplace dynamics.
The word ‘Millenial’ comes with its fair share of negative connotations, despite referring to the most tech-savvy working generation yet. Recruiting millennials comes with its own challenges. Millenials are smart, well informed, and unwilling to consider one-size-fits-all business. Instead, they favour companies that are able to conduct a dialogue with them, understand them as individuals, build relationships, and offer a hiring and employee experience that looks at not just their skills, but also at their needs and aspirations.This shift has meant recruiting is no longer based solely on skill but on future opportunities and firms understanding that retention is a huge contributor to keeping recruitment costs down. You need more than just a competitive wage and great location to attract talented, intelligent young legal professionals
In the past, firms had a personnel manager – HR departments didn’t exist. You developed a relationship with him/her, sent your CV in the post, and discussed each person’s strengths and weaknesses over the phone. Law firms have to be much more efficient in their recruitment processes now. A few years ago, a candidate might be faced with one or two suitable opportunities. Today, they could have eight to ten.
Today’s HR teams have ‘recruitment portals’ and a much more rigorous recruitment process. In many instances, to abide by employee and data laws, HR departments do not want or allow any discussion regarding specific individuals. With the imminent implication of GDPR, recruiters will have to make any candidates fully aware of how they will attain and use their personal data making sure it is more secure than before.
Loyalty and retention
Rightly or wrongly, individuals today do what they believe is best for them. Partners and assistants move because they want something different. More money, a better firm’s name on their CV, fewer hours, a more relaxed culture, a better career or a better platform for their clients. There will always be another company who can offer them more. A good salary isn’t enough to hold on to great staff anymore. Development, career progression, staff benefits are now just as, if not more important to candidates than ever before. Equally, since the recession law firms have become far more focused on profit. There isn’t as much loyalty on either side in most cases. Partners with 20 years at a firm may start to feel uneasy and exposed if they’ve had a bad year regardless of being there for a number of years.. There is a general feeling that ‘you are only as good as your last year and you can’t relax for a moment’. This makes staff turnover the highest in years within an industry where loyalty is no longer seen as an industry basic.
Between 2008 and 2012, most law firms cut their trainee intake. This meant that fewer trainees qualified in non-contentious disciplines such as banking, corporate and property law. The upshot of this is that we now have a dearth of solicitors with two to five years’ PQE in the job market, leaving teams out of balance. The problem is exacerbated by the fact there has been an increase in the amount of work available. This skills shortage means a more candidate-led market. To keep candidates, they are offered incredible salaries and promises of promotion and partnership because the firm knows it will have real problems in backfilling the job. The industry is looking for more innovation and investment in HR, graduate training programs and recruitment strategies.
These changes mean the industry has grown and developed it’s opportunities for attracting a wider range of talent, allowing a more positive view of the industry. The evolution of technology has made recruitment as a whole more time and cost efficient, allowing the growth of HR and recruiters both agency and in-house. Legal recruitment has adapted to and welcomed the cultural changes that have affected it.
In the future law firms and legal recruiters will need to ensure the solutions for their recruitment projects are feasible. Firms must make sure that their recruitment solution fits their intended outcome and not adopt a ‘one that certainly doesn’t fit all’ mentality. Some recruiters still work under the assumption that the deal is final once job offers have been accepted, not really understanding the factors that are driving the candidate, current situations, locations or anxieties. It’s crucial that candidates have an emotional connection with the firm they are going into. Recruiters need to ensure the candidate understands why they are moving firm or business because they will probably be doing very a similar role or work for similar clients as they were before. Are both client and recruiter sure the candidate is a good fit for the firm? If the candidate has a lengthy notice period, make sure there is regular contact with them until their first day in the office.
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