Grapevine

How’s your talent management? Haven’t got a clue? You’re not alone. It’s a safe bet that it won’t be top of the agenda for most managing partners.

Although it sounds like something 19 Management (the chaps behind Pop Idol, in case you somehow didn’t know) wrestles with on a daily basis, talent management is actually one of an increasingly important number of HR-related issues facing law firms.

It’s not a difficult concept: identify the star performers and, with the right coaching and all-round development plans, help ensure they’re working in the most appropriate (and remunerative) environment as they progress towards partnership. And while they work towards equity, the focus on HR issues also helps with retention.

Not a difficult concept then, but a survey by Deloitte & Touche last week found that talent management in the legal sector was being “badly neglected” compared with other sectors. The first part of The Lawyer’s own research into HR issues, focusing on the leading professionals in the market, will be published next week. Part two, a more in-depth analysis of everything from recruitment policies to the perks of the job, will be published in the New Year.

Initial findings concur with Deloittes. Although HR is gradually being taken more seriously at a strategic level in a handful of firms (notably Herbert Smith, Taylor Wessing and Freshfields, which has now put 96 per cent of its partners through a rigorous leadership training programme), comprehensive mentoring and development initiatives remain rare.

Equally, only a handful of firms surveyed by The Lawyer have signalled HR’s move from a purely support function to (excuse the horrible phrase) “strategic partner”, by making the HR head a board-level or partner-status position. Despite this, and as one magic circle HR director pointed out, “it is increasingly recognised that the way in which people are recruited, engaged and developed is both a differentiator between firms and a highly commercial issue”.

Giving HR the weight it deserves might not be quite as glam as picking the next winning singer (Sam’s a shoo-in anyway), but it might mean your assistants last slightly longer at your firm than a Pop Idol’s career.