HR Awards: People power

The Academy Awards ceremony may be hanging in the balance, but fret not, replacement glamour is here in the shape of The Lawyer HR Awards, with a party to end all parties on 12 February 2008.

In 2007 HR increased further its influence over the management of law firms, being significantly involved in the design and implementation of strategies to increase diversity, retention, the communication of the firm’s brand and work-life balance.

Here The Lawyer introduces the shortlist of contenders in some of the categories and describes what has thrust them into the spotlight, and in doing so we also provide a snapshot of the initiatives that are being used in both law firms and in-house departments.

HR team of the year

In all the categories, the quality of submissions is unprecedented, but this is especially reflected by the length of the shortlist for the HR Team of the Year. All of the teams would have been deserving winners in a less hotly contested year, with almost all the initiatives resulting in marked improvements.

Allen & Overy‘s (A&O) team kicked off the firm’s first senior associate conference and was generally active in amplifying the voices of the firm’s assistants.

BLP proved it was in a strong position to defend its previous year’s win with its innovative in-house headhunter role and a series of training and communication initiatives.

Browne Jacobson‘s HR efforts translated into greater client satisfaction and got employees involved in social and community activities.

Nabarro shone with imaginative recruitment campaigns and impressive staff retention and turnover figures.

Pinsent Masons HR team created a flurry of programmes in almost all spheres, including pervasive capability frameworks for all lawyers and pushing ahead on diversity issues.

Shoosmithsteam improved its internal communications with a raft of new ideas, such as open meetings dubbed ‘The Naked Chairman’, where the firm’s management is exposed.

Weil Gotshal & Manges pushed ahead in many areas, organising numerous networking events for HR professionals working in the law.

HR director of the year

Every law firm needs a forceful champion of HR issues, and the four nominees for HR Director of the Year all pushed their teams into new territories.

BLP’s Geoff Griffin – one of the highest-profile HR directors in the law, with a central role in the firm’s strategy – drove the business forward with his HR knowledge.

Linklaters‘ Jill King was thoroughly active, putting the HR function squarely on the map with her appointment to the firm’s international executive committee with full voting rights.

Pinsent Masons’ Jonathan Bond has had a clear vision of an active and empowering HR function and translated this across to every function of his team.

Lovells’ Kay Willis was the brain behind many of the firm’s ‘people’ initiatives, which ranged from alternative career models for lawyers to training and development.

Award for Excellence in training

To keep lawyers fighting fit, they need to be trained continually, and the shortlisted teams all made a real difference to the skills and developments of their firms’ staff this year.

Ashurst‘s interactive Second Life-style ‘e-induction’ programme introduces the firm to new starters before they join through the firm’s website.

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) connected training with business development in its international lawyer exchange programme, enhancing relationships with its international network of firms.

Eversheds held around 1,000 training programmes for its staff and disseminated this in a multitude of ways.

Greenwoods Solicitors tackled its training aims from the top down by providing partners with leadership training and encouraging the transition to senior associate level for its assistants.

Lovells impressed with its breadth of training programmes, which include its ‘PA excellence’ programme.

Stephenson Harwood completely rethought its partner training programme, which underpinned the firm moving up across the board.

Most effective diversity programme

With diversity one of the legal profession’s buzzwords and something that is increasingly demanded by clients, HR groups have focused much of their attention on the issue.

A&O‘s diversity efforts last year have been broad in scope and included touches such as lunchtime parenting seminars.

Bevan Brittan engaged with local communities while driving things forward internally with a 30-strong ‘diversity working group’.

Lovells was involved on numerous fronts in widening access to the legal profession in the City, working with and supporting numerous charities in the field.

Norton Rose set up an influential diversity committee and diversity group, which have introduced a large number of internal and external initiatives.

Pinsent Masons made special efforts to focus on lesbian, gay and bisexual employees as its involvement with gay rights campaign group Stonewall continued.

Shoosmiths developed a comprehensive training programme with an internal strategy based on inclusivity and provided tailored diversity training for all those involved in recruitment.

Most innovative recruitment initiative

How to recruit is a recurring topic in an increasingly competitive market that is vying for the best talent. All of the shortlisted teams came up with creative and business-savvy ideas, and some had downright audacious ways to bring home the catch.

Addleshaw Goddard jumped on the web 2.0 bandwagon with aplomb, becoming the first firm to get the trend started in the legal community, with its use of audio and video podcasts opening a previously unopened doorway to students.

BLP‘s introduction of an in-house headhunter was an innovative solution to the common problem of how to identify and snare quality laterals who fit into the firm’s culture.

Lovells looked beyond the traditional pools of applicants by visiting students in faith schools, targeting mature students at universities and looking beyond mere A-level points in its application process.

Nabarro gave away ‘Nabar’ chocolate bars with open-day ‘golden ticket’ prizes inside, generating a buzz when the scheme hit careers fairs across the country. The initiative yielded results for the firm in terms of applications, visibility and branding.

Best Graduate trainee recruitment campaign

How to make a firm known among students is a perennial problem. The shortlisted firms all found ways to lure students out of dorms and to their offices, which is no mean feat.

BLP increased application numbers by almost 50 per cent with a recruitment campaign that ticked every single box – an impressive achievement.

Browne Jacobson increased student awareness and applications from local universities, particularly Nottingham, and focused on getting the firm’s brand known in its home area.

DLA Piper played on its global and UK regional strengths and increased international recruitment events and initiatives.

DMH Stallard boasted an enviable trainee retention rate of 100 per cent, and its efforts in advertising and building strong relationships with universities in the South East enabled it to leverage alumni for the benefit of the firm and future joiners.

Nabarro‘s team successfully raised the profile and orientation of its entire graduate recruitment campaign through hard work at law fairs and on its summer programmes, as well as through the use of the ‘Nabar’ chocolate bar and ‘golden ticket’ open-day lottery.

Weil Gotshal & Manges’ position as a US law firm did not stop the team making serious inroads into the UK graduate recruitment market, unlike some of its compatriots. The solution was a combination of strong, bold branding and clear targeting of students, encouraging them to apply to the firm and to “do something that scares you”.

Innovation in talent management & retention

Talent management and retention is another key plank of the HR platform. However, novel approaches exist that can make the problem of staff retention seem less intractable.

A&O revolutionised lawyers’ bonus payments in the City by linking them directly to equity partner points, as well as fine-tuning associates’ career paths with new roles and responding to associates’ work-life balance concerns.

Ashurst‘s team rolled out career path structures that abandoned the automatic pegging of rewards to PQE levels, focusing instead on rewarding skills. The firm now has three associate levels as well as the position of counsel.

BLP launched a number of interesting schemes to manage its internal talent, including the ‘slipstream programme’ to help laterally hired partners integrate, as well as the ‘springboard programme’, which trains junior legal secretaries by rotating them through four ‘seats’ in a year.

Lovells started up its senior associate career level in a considered and well-planned-out move that was integrated into training and continual development processes for the individual.

Mishcon de Reya‘s quality assurance programme uses monitoring partners to guide lawyers in their careers by giving constructive and impartial advice.

White & Case bucked the common image of US firms as sweatshops by introducing highly successful flexible working practices that can be tailored by each employee to suit their own needs. Staff turnover appears to have decreased as a direct result.

Most effective Internal communications

Internal communications is not just about letting staff know what is going on. It is also about letting people know what the firm is about and establishing a powerful brand that staff feel a connection with and loyalty to.

Addleshaw Goddard used internal communications to great success to promote its corporate social responsibility programme.

Baker & McKenzie faced the unenviable task of talking to staff across its huge global network of offices and creating the feeling of all being part of the same family. Through ideas such as its electronic real-time news-ticker service, it succeeded.

BLP overhauled its entire approach to communications after a detailed survey of all staff, rebuiling the entire system from first principles. Internal communications now state how long people are expected to spend reading and dealing with them.

Lovells focused on disseminating the firm’s recently developed ‘values’. The values were cleverly packaged and sold to staff, having been launched in high-impact campaigns. The message was updated regularly through workshops and feedback processes.

See story for the winners on the night.