Move On Up: Burness
25 March 2012 | Updated: 26 March 2012 9:21 am
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At a firm where promotions have been scarce, a new staff-focused HR policy should shake things up
Scottish firm Burness has implemented a new HR policy in the past year, with the aim of focusing more on talent management, attraction, development, engagement and retention of staff.
The policy is timely. In the past six years Burness has made up just four lawyers to partner. The same period has seen the firm recruit three senior associates from other firms to become partners, along with five lateral partner hires.
The four internal promotions were spread over three years. 2007-08 saw the promotion of corporate finance lawyer Christopher Gotts in Edinburgh. In 2010, fellow Edinburgh corporate finance lawyer Walter Clark was made up.
Edinburgh pensions lawyer Sarah Phillips was promoted in the current financial year.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow pensions lawyer Vanessa Ingram was promoted in 2008-09, but she left Burness in the current financial year to set up her own practice.
The firm has recognised effort at a slightly lower level, though, benefitting from a multi-tiered career structure. At the same time as announcing Clark’s promotion, health and safety lawyer Diane Turner was promoted to director.
In August last year two associates became directors and six solicitors became associates, although there were no partner appointments.
The bulk of the firm’s growth at partner level has been through lateral hiring. In the past five years eight partners have been recruited from outside the firm, with the emphasis on the Edinburgh office.
Of the eight laterals, four were partners at their former firms – one a partner-designate and three senior associates – indicating that Burness is able to spot partner potential at other firms even if it has not always recognised it internally.
Burness has targeted both local rivals and major internationals for partners. 2008-09 saw the recruitment of two construction partners, Sandra Cassels and Fenella Mason, from DLA Piper’s Edinburgh office. Weil Gotshal & Manges senior associate Lorna Finlayson joined Burness in Edinburgh as a partner in the previous year.
These three are the only women to have been recruited, against five male laterals in the five-year period. However, Burness has held on to its female partners more successfully than its male partners; along with Ingram, the only other woman to have left the partnership since 2006-07 was construction partner Christa Reekie, who left to join client the Scottish Futures Trust in 2009-10.
In total, Burness lost 18 partners between 2006-07 and the current financial year. Of those, five retired, all between 2008 and 2010.
The only loss in 2010-11 – one of Burness’s better years for partner
retention – was that of Ian Grieve, who was recruited from Dundas & Wilson in 2006.
Grieve was a senior associate at Dundas and became a partner at Burness before jumping ship to become a partner at HBJ Gateley.
The HR changes that Burness has made over the past year seek to improve elements such as retention and attraction of talent. The firm has had a firmwide bonus scheme for some time, awarding all employees up to 10 per cent of their salary if the firm hits profit targets.
The new scheme rewards fee-earners specifically; if an individual hits their chargeable hours target they are eligible for another bonus of up to 10 per cent of salary, depending on their individual performance during the year.
The firm’s chair Philip Rodney and HR director Derek Cummings are confident that these changes and an increased focus on talent identification at an early stage will make Burness more stable at all levels of the firm.
Promotions and senior hires
Sandra Cassels, construction partner Cassels was recruited from DLA Piper’s Edinburgh office in 2008-09
Christopher Gotts, corporate finance partner Gotts is one of just three internal promotions at Burness in recent years
Lorna Finlayson, regulatory partnerFinlayson was a senior associate at Weil who joioned Burness in 2007-08