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Salans’ chief operating officer, Neil Woodcock, appreciates that traditional career paths are a thing of the past – that is why he has signed up a global HR head.
Salans has snapped up former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer HR manager Judith Hesketh. The ever-expanding reach of the firm, together with changing attitudes to happiness at work, has meant that Salans has had to modernise its HR function.
“Back when I was climbing the slippery slope at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the carrot of partnership was dangled in front of me,” recalls Woodcock. “Seven years to partnership, now six, now five. But that’s not enough for associates today.”
Hesketh left her role as London head of HR at Freshfields a year ago and joined Salans last week. She is charged with developing a global HR strategy and overseeing secondments, graduate training, benefits and lateral hires, as well as the corporate social responsibility strategy.
“It’s a busy role,” notes Woodcock, with a heavy dose of understatement. With its new HR manager on board, Salans hopes it can face the competition for talented lawyers with renewed strength. The firm wants to be more than just a pleasant place to work and also provide a clear career path for those ambitious associates.
“The most important thing for us is that Salans is a good place to work,” says Woodcock. “But we’ve reached a certain point in our size and development where we can’t rely on just that.
“The lawyers need to feel that there’s a clear vision there – a path ahead for at least the next three years. This depends both on the leadership and the individual,” he adds.
“For the individual there are family responsibilities, for example, and all sorts of things. So as a firm you have to be suitably flexible and put in place policies that measure up to expectations.”
Woodcock has seen that the war for talent is fierce in the market and is determined that his lawyers do not become casualties. A joined-up HR strategy is seen as the best defence.
“Salans has always had a good track record in retention, but we’re always worried about it,” admits Woodcock. “The competitors are always out there.” Before the creation of the global HR role, the individual offices of Salans used to be responsible for their own HR policies, but now all local HR managers will report into Hesketh.
Hesketh will also fill in as local HR chief for the firm’s smaller offices where there is no local head. This could prove challenging given Salans’ reach across Eastern Europe.
“This isn’t about creating a global bureaucracy,” says Woodcock, “but oiling the wheels between the offices.”
He explains that Salans has a high level of movement of lawyers around the world, from office to office. The firm needed someone to join everything up and make sure that the smaller local offices are supported centrally.
Also, a law firm that is known for not taking care of employment issues in its offices will find it hard to lecture a client about good labour practice internationally.
Woodcock chuckles again: “Each country has its own rules and employment laws. As a law firm we wanted to make sure we were doing things properly.”