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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  • Lawyers and others

    Lawyers may sometimes be smug, lacking in social skills and/or totally clueless about anything except the law, but for all that, they do in general tend to be reasonably clever.

    For all the skills that other teams might have, that intellectual level is rarely HR teams across the board, and certainly not by PR teams, despite the presence of the odd very clever person. And please note that in saying this, I am not a lawyer myself.

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  • (H)andbrake on the (R)est of us

    I can only comment based on my relatively short time in the profession (3 years) but I fail to understand how HR 'adds value' to working in a law firm. My contact with them has involved:

    1) Annual box ticking meeting

    HR Q: Are you happy in your role? A: Not really.

    HR Q: What would improve your job satisfaction?
    A: Doing less DD, more responsibility

    HR Q: Have you discussed this with the partners?

    HR: Right well that's probably the best route to improve things then.

    Me Q: So why am I talking to you about all this then?

    HR A: Well I have this form to fill in...

    2) HR fielding enquiries about my benefits (pension, leave etc)

    3) The admin involved in hiring and firing (obviously the partners make the actual decisions)

    4) When there was an investigation into misconduct at my firm HR managed to mess it up and it was put into the hands of, guess who? The partners.

    How do those roles constitute a profession?

    If I am missing a whole raft of duties that fill HR execs' days then please enlighten me. As far as I can see they add little other than an admim function, with all significant decisions being taken by partners.

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  • here we go

    One of the attractions about working within a large City law firm is that the very best lawyers you meet and work alongside are intelligent, structure their arguments well, respect the quality of your own arguments and are often willing to take advice on topics they know nothing about. The worst can be bullying thugs. You get both types and all shades inbetween in most firms.

    Since there are normally more calls on a support person's time than there are hours in the day, you are more inclined to devote more time and energy helping those lawyers that you get on with than those whose behaviour would get them thrown out of nursery school.

    As a result, most lawyers get the support they deserve - the true professionals get high quality support, while the Neanderthals get their prejudices reinforced.

    As for the money, it is the partners that demand they recruit the best people available and/or have a good understanding of the legal sector and its foibles. The candidates also have to be suitably robust to survive in a law firm environment. These people don't grow on trees, and know their market worth.

    Also, for many, working for a law firm is not the sexiest role in the world. Imagine the conversation at a party: "So, what do you do?" "I work in IT for a law firm." Social death on so many levels...

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  • Revolution anyone?

    I work in a "support" function and do find it frustrating. First mistake law firms made was calling the function support. I've come from commercial organisations where there is no "support" function - everyone works for the business and wants the business to succeed.

    Secondly, I don't know about the other support areas but I certainly know in marketing and business development law firms are around 8 years behind what most commercial companies are doing. The fact of the matter is, until lawyers realise they're not very good at running businesses and leave it to non fee-earning "support" staff they're never going to be. Revolution anyone?

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  • Handbrake on the rest

    Value: in one year... 7 negotiated arbitrations saving the partners emabarrasment in the courts and some net 800k worth of tribunal / barristers fees let alone any awards. 1.2M worth of rentention costs saved byt he introduction of better HR practice. Factored up to gross fees needed to be earned = 6.3M. Top biller in the firm 5M. Wish I had got the same pay as the top biller. Reduced admins costs by process reengineering by 1.6M, billing worth 3M. Thus ROI on my cost =
    100x. Average fee earner ROI = 2.6.

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  • HR, PR and attitudes

    And thus the debate rumbles on. There seems to be a division, albeit superficial, between lawyers, HR, PR, and indeed the rest of the world.

    What is sad about the whole debate is that a lot of the comments smack of petty playground rivalries and, to be quite frank, I pity the people who have to work alongside some of the bigoted dinosaurs who have sent deliberately inflammatory replies to this thread.

    Clearly, what is apparent above pretty much everything else (judging by the replies below) is that some lawyers have a very big chip on their shoulder with an inferiority complex to match.

    If you have to justify who you are and what you do, then you must surely be suffering from a degree of personal dissatisfaction. Perhaps a psychoanalyst might trace it back to rejection at childhood, or always being last in the school sports day. Whatever the cause, I think it is important to note the outcome of the survey which has been undertaken.

    Clearly, in some quarters, there are people who are dissatisfied, disengaged and unhappy in their day-to-day working lives. These can be lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Surely we all have a collective responsibility to ensure that our peers, wherever we work, are as happy as they can be. To say otherwise would be churlish, inhumane and extremely damaging to any business, whether it is professional, non-professional, legal or non-legal.

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  • Professionals

    I am sorry to upset the people who have posted but there are only 3 professions - medicine, accounting and law.

    If you are an accountant working in a law firm you are obviously still a professional but I am afraid to say that the traditional view of 'professionals' would not include any other jobs/vocations or indeed HR workers.

    That is not to say that those people are not hugely valuable to a firm because they are but they are not professionals in the traditional sense of the word.

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  • From the dark side...

    I work in BD and have to side with the 'professionals' here – to suggest that what we do really provides genuine added value to a company is a huge overstatement. None of my colleagues have particularly strong academic backgrounds and, as mentioned below, the 'professional' qualifications they claim to have or are studying for don't stand up to the scrutiny or calibre of an ACCA – they are mere peripheral add-ons that try and give some legitimacy to the communications sector as a whole.

    If my colleagues genuinely wanted to work in communications, then they would go agency-side and work in an environment where it is a pure, dedicated service – but as someone touched upon already, like myself they are only here because the salaries are slightly higher than at other companies and industries.

    The fact that very, very few have any knowledge of or background in law testifies to this. The contribution of my department is valued, but only in the sense that someone needs to book a table for an awards dinner, get a marketing document printed off, and cut and paste the same pitch content from one document to another ad nauseum.

    If you possess common sense and basic administration skills then congratulations, but you don't need – or really have the clout to demand – some sort of respect for it.

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  • Between the lines

    So the subtext of this debate is that "professionals" only recognise "professionals" and that everybody else is mere flotsam and jetsam. Some of the pompous views on this page vindicate the notion that whilst lawyers may make very good lawyers, they do not necessarily make good businessmen. It's interesting that the three "professions" of medicine, accounting and law all require the same amoebic personality level.

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  • Oh please

    Oh please: have you ever MET someone in HR?

    Lawyers can be bad, but HR teams are typically - though not always - filled with robotic jobs-worths, each with all the initiative and warmth of a cash machine.

    PRs are generally a bit better but are as thick as cold porridge, while accountants are a lot brighter than both but... well, you all know what they say about accountants already.

    I'm no great fan of lawyers, but honestly - pots and kettles! EVERY business hates HR!

    The post room - that's where the real stars shine.

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  • Bad form

    Its not really suprising that the support teams are feeling bad is it? The main thrust of these comments seems to be that no-one but the lawyers add true value and therefore there's no point worrying about back office functions being engaged.

    But look at it this way, what if none of those support staff were there, and lawyers had to do it all themselves? Things would grind to a halt pretty quickly and we'd see hissy fits left right and centre. So clearly they add something. And whatever work it is that people are doing, they'll do it better if they feel valued and engaged.

    Perhaps those with a negative experience of these departments, might find they perform better when they're treated better...

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  • Bravo Laurence

    Well said.

    HR are nothing but chip wearing form fillers, generally.

    The odd good one here and there, but generally they're bitter that their lives didn't turn out quite as well as they wanted, and that they don't get a payslip nearly as fat as those nasty lawyers.

    Post Room superstars? Most definintely. I've recruited a number of very able, dedicated and intelligent people from the ranks of the post room. One of them will shortly be qualifying.

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  • From the dark side...

    "Things would grind to a halt pretty quickly and we'd see hissy fits left right and centre."

    Really? Some of the biggest firms in the world have been around for over 100 years, the majority of that time without BD or HR departments. I think 'self-importance' can be added to the list of support staff flaws!

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  • The most unsung roles?

    Not much mention of in-house software developers and programmers who enable lawyers to make 10 times as much money without doing any extra work. I wonder who gets the reward for it? Most people don't even know that they exist!

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  • IT

    Yeah, I'd stick up for IT, or at least against HR: at least the IT team actually DO something...

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  • Support staff

    I don't have anything bad to say about any other of the support teams, but HR have been at best mediocre, at worst a real pain at each of the five businesses I've worked for.

    When it comes to making a hire, they insert themselves quite unnecessarily and unhelpfully in every decision, always trying to justify their existence, yet when on the few things where their help is actually called for, such as over payroll questions, they are inflexible, obstructive and the very opposite of the 'can do' attitude.

    I still have faith that in some businesses, HR can be a positive help, but everywhere I have worked so far they have been resented by decision-makers and junior staff alike.

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  • Alternatives to partnership

    Given the (increased?) difficulties of getting into the equity tier at most firms, surprisingly few have done much when it comes to creating real alternatives.

    I think if you suggested to many managing partners that they are ready to callously chuck away the lawyers who they aren't planning to make partner when they get older they would recoil in horror, yet are doing this inadvertently by not creating anywhere for those lawyers to go within the firm.

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  • Business Professionals - Emperor's New Coat

    having worked in the 'support' function of several law firms, as well as big corporates, i can't say I have any respect for the so-called 'business/marketing professionals' at all.

    One simple fact: genuine marketing professionals understand their market and the product they are selling.

    But I have yet met a legal marketing person who has any clue about what lawyers do, nor the products/market segmentation of their clients. So much for the oft-repeated mantra: cross-selling........

    Don;t even talk to me about their qualification! If these people are any good, they'll be in real marketing organisations, e.g. Procter and Gamble, where they are on the front line.

    Let's be brutally honest, they are no more than glorified events or pitch-printing people (some of them are very good at it though and these are essential functions).

    My experience so far is that many of them are protected by some senior partners of the firms (perhaps they started off as their secretaries years ago), hence nobody dares check/question their effectiveness/value fopr money.

    One Silver Circle firm I know has had at least 1 business support person leaving every month (out of a total around 40) for over 2 years! Can you imagine any serious commercial organisation allowing that kind of costs to be incurred for so long - e.g. the recruitment agency fees?

    Not to mention a no. of bullying complaints within the department... Yet both the marketing and HR director continue to be at the end of the day, lawyers can only blame themselves for allowing this kind of emperor-new-coat to exit

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  • mandy

    i think perhaps the accoutning function and IT should be separated from the BD function, in terms of value adding.

    The former know what they are doing, their ability has been measured by external/objective qualifications, and i can't imagine how any law firm can function without them.
    Also they don't have a chip on their shoulder, i.e. they don't have to justify why they exist.

    But BD is totally different: while they are important in putting pitches together, arranging clients' functions, especially the large ones and generally making sure fee earners can concentrate on their work, and managing directory submission, there is nothing that a competent admin secretray can't do.

    Whether they are professionals or not is a moot point, as long as they stop talking about 'helping partners cross sell' or 'to be involved in client facing'! these are way out of their depth! and stop pretending they are marketing profrosessionlas (which by definition means they have to actually know the markets).

    I know one banking function in a city firm whose BD manager and a BD exec. haven't beeen replaced for about a year. While it's not convenient, the department hasn't collaped and certainly the fee income hasn't gone down.

    Now isn't that saying something in itself! (And it is not the only department I know which is in the same situation!)

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  • I have worked in the legal professional for over a decade and have worked with some of the top brass of the legal world. I am not a solicitor although do fee earn and in addition bring in new business leads in excess of 100 per month!

    I feel the need to have my say in relation to ANON's comments see above ..........

    He says support staff have no less respect that 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.

    What a w****r! I'm sorry [not really] but if you are going to make such comments at least have the balls to tell us who you are.

    Let me tell you the support staff at most of the firms I have worked for over the last decade would have gobbled you up and spat you out! Furthermore most of them would probably be better at the job than ANON! Which probably explains his/her issue.

    Another important fact this idiot wants to learn is that no matter how clever he thinks he may be THERE IS NO I IN TEAM. The support staff are the very backbone of most firms and the HR Managers who run the firms have to deal with those such as ANON everyday, its them that I feel sorry for not the ANONs of this world who seem to have issues spilling over from the days of their articles or training contracts having to do too many ad hoc duties/make too much tea or have to ask people like me for advice.

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  • IF that's what lawyers and/or partners think of support staff maybe everyone in IT should just walk out.

    It would be interesting to see how far you get anon without ANY support from IT........

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