Talent management in the credit crunch: how should law firms handle their staff?
22 September 2008
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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.