BLP shows its rock-solid ‘Star’ quality

For the second year running, Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) picked up the trophy for HR Team of the Year at The Lawyer HR Awards 2008, as well as the for Excellence in Training and Most Effective Internal Communications awards.

The BLP HR team is 24 strong and has been led by HR director Geoff Griffin for 12 years. Griffin was formerly a partner at a top 10 accountancy firm. The team is then split into three main areas: personnel, training and development, and recruitment.

Personnel is led by Valerie Moncur who was formerly HR manager for the international tax and human capital services division at Arthur Andersen. Training and development is in the hands of Patrick McCann who, in his former life, was a lawyer and then the training manager at Bird & Bird. Recruitment is headed by Jonathan Brenner, who is also BLP’s in-house headhunter. As well as being an ex-lawyer, Brenner was the joint founder of recruitment consultancy ZMB (now part of Hays Legal). A quarter of BLP’s HR team is made up of former lawyers.

Since 2006, BLP’s efforts have centred around an initiative the team dubbed ‘star quality’. The term was coined at the 2006 partners’ conference after a Harvard Business School lecture on high-performing organisations and what made them successful. Thus ‘Star’ was born as an acronym of the four main HR functions: ‘S’ for strategy, ‘T’ for training and development, ‘A’ for HR and ‘R’ for recruitment.

Hold on, ‘A’ for HR?

McCann quips: “If you spell the letter H, that’s how you are supposed to spell it.” ‘Aitch ar’, that is.

Not entirely convincing. But whatever ‘A’ may stand for, ‘Star’ has helped define the focus of the different HR functions more clearly and has helped streamline the strategy as a whole. Each HR group was initially tasked with identifying problems and to begin working on their solutions in a methodical manner.

As a result, the team has rolled out a long list of initiatives in the past few years – one that is far too long to publish here, but it includes: the launch of career development frameworks for lawyers, secretaries, professional support lawyers and business development staff; enhanced client secondments; splitting trainee intakes evenly over March and September; a new partner promotion process; improved employee benefits; the launch of a new integration process for laterally hired partners; and the creation of the in-house headhunter role, recruiting Brenner.

However, more impressive than the long list of initiatives are the results it has brought.

More than 200 associates have been recruited in the past three years and attrition is currently around 12 per cent over a three-year period. McCann says: “If you think about the amount of lawyers we’ve recruited I think our retention figures are very good.”

Internal promotions to partnership have been strong and graduate recruitment offer and acceptance-rates and the retention of newly qualifieds are high, there has also been a significant increase in the ethnic diversity of the firm’s intake.

Going forward, the firm has a new motto: ‘rock on’. This was coined after a strategic away day in Brighton, dubbed ‘Brighton Rock’.

McCann says: “‘Rock on’ is based on providing stable, robust initiatives going forward. They are things that will go to the core of the firm – like Brighton Rock – but are also fun for us to do and exciting – like rock ‘n’ roll – and they’re also stable like a rock.”

It’s almost too much to take in, but the HR team seems to lap it up.

And that is part of the impression the BLP team gives – they were by far the loudest tables at the HR Awards and do not take themselves too seriously. Rock on, indeed.

Firm: BLP
Number of HR staff:24
Total staff: 1,111
Associate attrition 2006-07: 13 per cent
Number of trainees: 80
Newly qualified retention rate 2007: 89 per cent
Diversity: 14.5 per cent of 2009 trainees are ethnic minorities (up from 5 per cent in 2006)
Training contract acceptance rate: 79 per cent