Employee survey reveals support staff dissatisfied

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  • Support Roles and Engagement...

    Very good to see a survey including all members of firms (legal and non-legal) and to see the differences...

    Two of the biggest issues surrounding non-legal / support staff engagement are; Firstly, engagement from the top partnership is usually only ever via the absolute head of support functions (directors/heads of) etc - other senior managers, the ones who often do the actual work, are often ignored and under valued/paid and end up leaving.

    Secondly, strategic planning between support functions is often not joined up - whilst such teams work together on actual work, too often planning is done vertically in isolation, leading to politics, duplication and lack of efficiency and engagement. And too often it's the same 'absolute heads' who are the ones playing politics.

    Another crucial issue is the way many firms treat the overhead model of support teams i.e. they are an expense and a cost to the firm.

    However because such overheads are not re-charged to legal teams in many firms, the work of support functions (even discrete projects) is seen as 'zero cost' and there is a grab for support resource by legal teams.

    This leads to static/reduced budget but increased demand, a situation that leads to de-moralised support staff.

    Until partners can understand the difference between true operational overhead and projects which are investments, and can demonstrate ROI then this situation will continue.

    There are many, many senior support people who are as professional as lawyers (and as qualified as such), but whom are not respected merely because they are not lawyers and because they are not 'top of the tree' in a particular support function.

    For such professionals to not be engaged with due respect for their expertise in their own fields must surely be one of the main causes for the feelings of undervaluation.

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  • Come on...

    With a few significant exceptions, support staff have no less respect than they deserve, and it is only due to the generosity of firms in the first place by giving them such big salaries relative to their merits that they get ideas above their station.

    HR is NOT a profession like being a lawyer, an architect or a doctor, and though people in HR might call themselves professionals, it's frankly a bit of a joke.

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  • Anon - where are you?

    Many of us would be grateful if Anon would tell us which firm he works at (I bet it's a 'he'), so that we can avoid it like the plague.

    Whilst his pre-historic attitudes are fading (particularly in the bigger firms) there are two many like him about. Many HR people I've worked with in law firms (no, I don't work in HR) are first rate managers - and add far more value to the business than partners who believe they are superiour. Come the revolution......

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  • Anon - uninsightful much?

    Comment directed to Anon - that was the most uninsightful comment in relation to HR professionals, I am almost embarrassed for you - do you have an inferiority complex?

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  • Support roles and engagement

    Do we know of many other business sectors that would pay 'such big salaries relative to their merits' and then be so utterly contemptuous of their investment?

    Surely Anons policy is to hire support staff because of a perceived business requirement. Any well-run business operates based on a structure, which utilises skills that are seen to add value, skills that the Fee Earning element may not possess.

    Many firms, particularly the smaller ones, have fairly rudimentary measures where the bottom line fees are all important. Analysing the costs associated with generating these fees is rarely given anything like as much attention.

    Many support staff find that leadership and direction are lacking and have little idea how they contribute to the overall plan, often leaving them bemused as they watch what is going on around them. So, the survey does not make for pleasant reading for some Managing Partners.

    The worrying thing is that to some these findings will come as a surprise.

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  • Value

    First of all to the shallow self conceited lawyer 'Anon' (1st comment) you clearly have no understanding whatever what support staff do. how do you think financial statements get published at month end or year end or even closer to home how you would get paid every month if someone didnt sit down to process the payroll!! i think most lawyers need a reall business education

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  • Call this a survey?

    Oh come on...11 firms are hardly representative of the legal profession as a whole. How many hundred of firms are there? And to say "The best will get partnership. It can only be for those of the very highest calibre.” misses the point that a vast number of lawyers don't want partnership at all.

    Money isn't all in life regardless of what partners the end of the day, you can't take it with you and you can't get back time you DIDN'T spend with friends, family and enjoying the one life you get!

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  • Anon is wrong

    Anon - as an ex-lawyer from a top 10 firm who now works in HR I can assure you that many of the people I have worked with in HR are a lot more professional than some of the lawyers I dealt with.

    Indeed, much of the work that gets done in HR is more challenging and stressful than that on the fee earning side. Your view is both outdated and inaccurate - get over yourself!

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  • Dark ages

    I am disappointed but not surprised that the last comment was posted. It is indicative of the mentality that prevails in law firms no matter what the website puff says.

    The fact that it is easier than ever now to become a lawyer makes a mockery of the 'profession' point - it is not the elitist career most within it think. Most 'lawyers' would struggle to tie their own shoelaces, let alone qualify as a doctor. In fact, without the HR professionals and support staff most lawyers would have been sued or worse due to dubious or non-existant people management skills.

    Whatever is said discrimination is still rife within the industry, and the last rather bigoted post proves that.

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  • Tuppence worth

    HR people: you might have a point about the comment below, but the really basic spelling and grammatical mistakes in your posts do slightly undermine your point about being highly skilled professionals.

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  • Defining 'professional'

    This is NOT a comment about the worth of people in HR, PR, etc, but just to be clear, they are not professionals. The definition of a profession is job for which people have to pass particular exams. Thus accountants, doctors, lawyers and architects are professionals, because those industries have their own exams, but PRs, HRs, etc aren't.

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  • Distinguished roles

    Yes, you are right Anon, HR professionals are not in the same profession as lawyers and doctors, HR professionals generally have a wider range of skills to perform and sometimes hold the academic qualifications in excess of those required to qualify in law.

    I agree with your comments Ex senior support manager.

    It's a pity that Partners and fee earners do not have a looking glass, so that they could look in at the practice and see how it would function without the support staff.

    They would soon realise that every member of staff is as important as the next and every person within the legal environment has their own part to contribute to the profitability and morale within the firm.

    It's not just about the professional qualification or standing of a specific group of people or person, its about the skill and professionalism applied by each and every member of a team who work towards the same goal. Come on partners! work with your HR team to discourage the disparity. Promote your support staff as an integral link within the firm, respect and value them to do the job that YOU employed them to do.

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  • Defining "Professional" take 2

    Actually the definition is vocation for which advanced learning is required. I studied for 4 years for my CIPD which involved a considerable number of exams. Therefore your analysis of what is deemed to be a profession is actually incorrect, much like the rest of your views.

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  • Now now...

    What were the rest of my views? I only expressed one. And there's no need to get huffy, I did say that the post wasn't about the worth of people in HR, only the defiinitition of professional.

    Further to that particular point, the key distinction is while to be a lawyer or an architect, etc, passing the professional exam is an essential legla requirement, exams such as the CIPD are not essential to working in HR.

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  • Support Staff

    Many of the comments below (from both sides of the debate) are baffling and frankly some of them are ridiculous.

    The level of ability and effectiveness within the fee earning ranks varies as much as it does in support roles; vocational title (be it "lawyer" or "human resources" or "marketing") is no indicator of capability and it is, to my mind, a poor point of reference when evaluating an individual's contribution to a business.

    Good support services within any business are of real value to that business and although it is the fee earners that attract and keep clients paying for work from a law firm, the fee earners' ability to attract and keep clients is enhanced (but not determined) by good support services.

    Personally, I believe that the effectiveness of HR; PR and marketing (amongst others) is difficult to determine with any level of certainty, but you do know when it is failing!

    Importantly (and strangely ignored in these comments), there tends to be one (comparatively) over-paid individual "managing" such support teams, who delegates to underpaid and undervalued teams of ambitious but unmotivated individuals and in my view support teams would be far more motivated (and accordingly effective) if the salaries paid to such teams were more evenly distributed to the individuals rather than overpayment to one individual "managing" them.

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  • Clarity Matters

    What an interestingly fractious debate.

    I would like to add to the debate but, as I am surrounded by the most professional group of people I could ask for, I have no complaints. These people bring a multitude of professions to our firm in both a fee-earning and non-fee earning capacity, and we are only ever interested in attracting and retaining the best talent. At our firm, clarity matters.

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  • Arrogance is rife!

    To all the "fee-earners" out there who seem to think that they are highly qualified. Would that a degree and two years work-experience (training contract) qualified you as an accountant! Try the ACCA exams sometimes - it takes on averge 7 years to complete them.

    I think I have had enough of "professionally qualified" arrogance. I happen to have an accounting qualification AND a post graduate management qualification but consider myself no more important than the other employees within the practice.

    It is the level of skill, knowledge and application which matters (and which should be rewarded) and certainly not the ability to pass a law degree or any other examination!

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  • Re: Clarity Matters

    I take it you work in the PR team?

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  • What is a professional?

    Every firm has different people in different roles that contribute to the success of the firm overall. How many law firms could function in the 21st century without IT support, PR/marketing, HR, finance/accounts, dtp, PA's or secretarial support? Yes the fee earners bring in the business but without support they can not deliver. Maybe if more of the "professionals" realised that non-lawyers are also professional at what they do - even if it is in a non-fee earning capacity - more support staff would feel a valid integral part of a firm.

    Everyone wants to feel appreciated for what they do - fee earners please recognise that support staff are a vital part of your business and remember a simple thank you can increase engagement and satisfaction.

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  • "support" staff

    Having worked at a senior level in HR in both magic circle and less sizeable firms for over 10 years, this survey is not surprising.

    Career development is woefully lacking in the support areas where the reality is not "up or out "but out and up".

    This leads to a high turnover with the associated costs and loss of intellectual capital which no organisation should want to happen in any part of the firm.

    Although I worked very closely with the business units and sat on the management committee I felt that moving the firms in a progressive direction was like pushing water uphill.

    Everything needed to be sold to the partnership and every investment opportunity was seemingly treated as if I was taking the food off the partners' children's plate. So I left to join a bank as the HR Director, where I am treated as an equal and expected to drive HR practices and thinking to ensure the bank meets its strategic targets which I help formulate.

    There is no talk of fee generators and support, we are all bankers doing our bit to make the company successful. I wish I had made this move long ago.

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