Nicely does it as Bakers picks up top employer award

’Culture of respect’ results in lower attrition; Freshfields’ film festival aids global understanding

Mischon de Reya’s house band The Enlightened Tenacitists provided the music
Mischon de Reya’s house band The Enlightened Tenacitists provided the music

Baker & McKenzie was a clear winner in the Employer of the Year category at this year’s The Lawyer Workplace & Diversity Awards – largely because it’s not afraid of the word ’nice’. As a result, 97 per cent of its lawyers say they are willing to go “over and above” what is required to make the firm succeed.

‘’Nice is a term we have in our global framework in terms of what we want our partners to have – it comes down to respect,” says managing partner Gary Senior. ”We have a culture whereby the most senior partner relates to the most junior employee – the type of person working across Baker & McKenzie is recognisable.”

This laser-like focus on respect, engagement and niceness might explain why the firm claims to have an average 4 per cent lower attrition rate than its closest competitors.

‘’Respect means that no matter what your role is and no matter what your level, you get a say,” says the firm’s HR director Martin Blackburn.

”Every idea is valuable, and I sense that this is why people feel engaged.”

Ideas submitted to the firm’s five diversity focus groups, for example, can affect strategy directly. Recommendations to BakerEthnicity saw the intake of black and minority ethnic trainees increase from 4 per cent in 2006 to 21 per cent in 2011, while those for BakerBalance saw the launch of ’maternity networking’ sessions for women returning from or starting maternity leave. Bakers also carried off the Most Effective Diversity Programme – Social Mobility trophy.

Movie magic

Over at the Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer table there was much celebrating too. The firm won two prizes. One was for internal communications for the magic circle firm’s idea of holding a film festival. All offices were given a grant to make a film about anything they chose, allowing the artistic juices to flow. The corporate effect was huge, as screening the films created a chance for employees to understand what their colleagues were doing around the globe.

Freshfields also won in the only individual category, HR Director of the Year, where Kevin Hogarth was praised for leading a string of positive initiatives, persuading the leadership to implement far-reaching changes as the market was convulsing.

“Against a backdrop of challenging market conditions the HR team has made a critical contribution to the success of the firm,” says Hogarth.

Creative thinking

City firms do not have a monopoly on excellence.

‘’We have to continually challenge ourselves to move the game on,” says Graham de Guise, HR director of TLT, which won HR Team of the Year. ”We strive to be at the forefront of what is happening in our sector, giving people the space to think creatively.”

This emphasis on creativity has had remarkable effects. Team strategies have led to a 27.5 per cent year-on-year improvement in staff retention rates, a drop in recruitment costs and a dramatic improvement in profitability. The team has also looked for innovative ways to overcome challenges, saving many students from top-up fees with its four-year school-leavers programme.

‘’Considering the cost of recruiting graduates and the challenges of a seat rotation system, this is a more effective model than relying on the graduate system,” says Guise.

Winners: The Lawyer Workplace & Diversity Awards 2012

Hogarth: Freshfields HR chief triumphs
Hogarth: Freshfields HR chief triumphs

Award for Excellence in Training

Sponsor: GR Law
Winner: DLA Piper
Highly Commended: Keoghs

Best Corporate Responsibility Initiative

Winner: SJ Berwin

Excellence in Talent Management and Retention

Sponsor: Inclusive Diversity
Winner: TLT

Most Effective Diversity Programme – Gender

Sponsor: Frazer Jones
Winner: Irwin Mitchell

Most Effective Diversity Programme – LGB

Sponsor: Parker Wells
Winner: InterLaw Diversity Forum
Highly Commended: Clifford Chance; Pinsent Masons

Most Effective Diversity Programme – Social Mobility

Sponsor: Taylor Root
Winner: Baker & McKenzie
Highly Commended: Pinsent Masons

Most Effective Internal Communication

Sponsor: HR in Law
Winner: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

Most Effective Employee Benefits Scheme

Sponsor: Portus
Winner: RPC

Excellence in the Office Environment

Sponsor: MWB Business Exchange
Winner: Linklaters

Best Graduate Trainee Recruitment Campaign

Sponsor: The College of Law
Winner: Irwin Mitchell
Highly Commended:
Allen & Overy; Clifford Chance

Most Innovative Recruitment Initiative

Sponsor: Blackbridge Communications
Winner: Eversheds
Highly Commended: Linklaters

HR Director of the Year

Sponsor: Enrich
Winner: Kevin Hogarth, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

HR Team of the Year

Sponsor: DMJ Legal
Winner: TLT

Employer of the Year

Sponsor: First Counsel
Winner: Baker & McKenzie