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For the third successive year, Manchester-based Pannone & Partners came out as the top firm in The Sunday Times best places to work list.
Rachel Dobson, the firm’s HR director, is quite rightly pleased with the result and believes it is a testament to the firm’s open culture.
“We’ve always been an egalitarian firm. You can ask anybody anything,” she says.
As an example, Dobson points to the amount of information on the firm’s performance that is available to everybody that works there. “New partners that join the firm tell me that much of the information we distribute is confidential at other firms,” she tells The Lawyer.
The welfare of the staff is also foremost in the minds of the management team. “The effect of decisions we make on the people that work here is always central to what we do,” explains Dobson.
Dobson is not your normal HR director. She joined the firm as a commercial litigator, eventually becoming an equity partner. However, five years ago managing partner Joy Kingsley asked her to move into her current role and the rest, as they say, is history.
Dobson is one half of a two-member team that handles all the firm’s HR and recruitment issues. She is also responsible for managing the firm’s other resources, such as its buildings.
Career changes such as Dobson’s are actively encouraged at Pannones. Most recently, a five year-PQE lawyer moved across to become a legal skills trainer. The firm is now responsible for offering courses in specific areas of the law to secretaries, legal executives and anybody else who wants them.
“We always try to recruit internally, which I think is why we have such a low turnover rate,” says Dobson. Office juniors are also offered an internal training programme, for which they receive a certificate on completion, and all staff are actively encouraged to take other qualifications.
As with most firms, diversity is an important issue. Pannones recently came out as one of the top firms for the number of female partners it has.
However, Dobson admits that increasing the amount of ethnic minorities recruited by firms is harder. But she believes there are simple steps that the legal profession can take.
“If you have a policy of only recruiting from red-brick universities, firms can find that they’re discriminating indirectly,” she explains. “When we’re recruiting trainees, we have a policy of looking at applicants from all universities and making sure we recruit across the communities where we’re based.”
“We’re aware that we need to offer positive role models.” The new age discrimination legislation is also on Dobson’s radar, but until the final draft is published, she does not know what the direct effect to the firm will be. Finally, Dobson says her job has been made that much easier thanks to support from Kingsley. “Joy works really closely with me and we’ll talk about everything, even the little things,” she enthuses.