Talent management in the credit crunch: how should law firms handle their staff?

Law firms need to ­implement solid talent ­management schemes to get through the credit crunch intact – the main theme at a major London conference ­organised by The Lawyer.


Talent management in the credit crunch: how should law firms handle their staff?Law ;firms ;need ;to ­implement solid talent ­management schemes to get through the credit crunch intact – the main theme at a major London conference ­organised by The Lawyer.

Bankers and accountants have been using talent ­management schemes such as career development frameworks for years. Speakers from Merrill Lynch, Linklaters and Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) will give delegates at The ;Lawyer’s ;Talent ­Management Conference on 23-24 September a ­lowdown ;on ;how ;to ­implement them in law firms.

Patrick McCann, head of training and development at Berwin Leighton Paisner, winners of HR Team of the Year at The Lawyer HR Awards in January, predicts ;that ;career ­frameworks will become big news. He says: “It was mostly accountancy firms and banks that started using frameworks years ago. It took a bit longer for lawyers to look at career development. Their reservations were things like, ‘I don’t want to be measured’, and, ‘You can’t measure my work.’”

McCann ;adds ;that ­retention rates improve when lawyers are clear on what they are doing and where they are going. BLP has a 90 per cent retention rate for associates. “All the research we’ve done points to two reasons why people leave,” says McCann. ;“It’s ;either ­something to do with their boss or they feel there’s no career for them at the firm. Now whenever we have people leave it tends to be more about
personal lifestyle choice.”

A law firm’s bottom line is fragile during a downturn, but a strong vision for talent management can make the whole business more ­organised and flexible.

“People ;are ;clearer on what they should be ­spending their time on,” says McCann. “If times get ­harder, one of the things we’ll ask is that people be flexible about where they work and what they work on. People will invest a bit more into the firm, into things like trainee and ­associate development.”

Senior lawyers at a law firm going through an ­economic crisis will often try to keep hold of work to stay on course with billing ­targets, when they should be out and about meeting clients and pitching for new work.

As McCann explains: “A structure helps with ­passing the work down to the right levels. It’s tied to economic pressure and sometimes senior lawyers don’t pass the work down the chain to keep their own utilisation up. With a framework, everyone’s clear on what type of work needs to be ­delegated down.”

Using well-structured talent management schemes, law firms can make sure that the financial crisis yields more opportunities than problems. With fewer deals on, senior lawyers will have more time to focus on ­building up their junior lawyers. But only if they have a plan in place.

Talent Management conference: the Highlights

Below is a simple cut-out-and-keep guide to some of the highlights of The Lawyer Talent ­Management ­Conference on 23 and 24 September at the Melia White House, London NW1.

Chris Stoakes, head of legal training at Lovells, will give a talk on how to turn your lawyers from silent backroom boys into ­marketable superstars with training on ­commercial awareness.

Jill McMillan, head of ­leadership and ­development at Merrill Lynch,
will give the definitive guide to succession management and how to ensure you give the top jobs to your top talent.

Martyn Wolsely, head of international organisation development at the The Bank of New York Mellon, will show lawyers what strategies the bankers use to keep their best people. When they are not busy going bust, of course.

Liz McNulty, director of standards at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, will explain what new requirements law firms will have to consider before signing off their trainee recruitment plans.

For more details of this event, click here.