Lawyer Management: Collyer Bristow

Jan Dalgleish, HR director

Jan Dalgleish is HR director of Collyer Bristow and has been with the firm since 2010. She has previously held HR roles at firms including Mishcon de Reya, Clifford Chance and Hogan Lovells


How has your role changed during your time with the firm?

In modern law firms the HR team plays a central role in helping to shape the strategic direction of the firm and to support its priorities. At present I’m working closely with the board and management team to implement a targeted partner lateral hire programme. This is a good example of the role HR plays in supporting the broader growth strategy.

What are the biggest preconceptions law graduates have about the profession?

The market has changed dramatically in recent years and the over-supply of high-quality graduates means many end up disappointed when they discover just how difficult it can be to secure a training contact. Going forward we will see a change in the way firms structure their training contracts.

There is a need for more focused career advice in schools for students wishing to pursue a career in law. They need to be encouraged to study traditional core A-level subjects and not the more modern subjects, which are perceived by many as being easier alternatives. Early guidance for students is important to maximise their chance of securing a training contract once they have graduated.

What do you look for in recruits?

Self-starting graduates with common sense and a problem-solving capability who can demonstrate an ability and desire to understand our clients’ businesses or individuals’ often complicated circumstances. 

In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace technical excellence is simply not enough; we expect all our lawyers to be able to demonstrate commercial awareness and to understand the importance of delivering client service of the highest quality.

What are the biggest challenges facing the legal sector from a HR perspective? 

Adjusting recruitment and development strategies to ensure they remain effective in a profession that has seen – and will continue to see – significant change. The road to partnership is longer and less well-defined for today’s trainees. Tomorrow’s partners-in-waiting know they will be measured on their ability to develop a profitable practice, demonstrate a deep understanding of their clients’ businesses and deliver exceptional service. Making sure firms respond to this and are able to furnish their lawyers and aspiring partners with the necessary skills is one of the main HR challenges.

If you weren’t doing this what else would like to be doing?

I love to travel, so top of my wish-list would be to write independent reviews about the world’s top hotels – if only such a job existed.

What has been your biggest career lesson and why?

HR is a people business and you need to develop and learn to trust your instincts. Early in my career I was pressured by a manager into recruiting someone I believed was not right for the firm. Subsequently, I was proved right. Unfortunately, the decision cost the firm a lot of money to put right, but it taught me a lesson – if in doubt, do not hire.

How do you attract applicants from a wide range of backgrounds?

Our practice spans a range of commercial and private client areas, and we often say the typical Collyer Bristow client does not exist, so neither does the typical Collyer Bristow lawyer. 

The firm has strong values and a unique culture. It’s often our culture that attracts candidates, whether trainees or potential partners.

Who would you most like to get stuck in a lift with?

Sir Ben Ainslie. I’d like to see if I can persuade him to jump ship and join the New Zealand crew for the America’s Cup in 2016.

 Firm facts

Total partners: 28

London partners: 27

Total staff: 135

Offices: 2


Global turnover: £15.1m

How important is the promotion of diversity in the legal profession?

“Diversity is getting a great deal of attention in the legal profession and among commentators at the moment, most of it surrounding how we monitor and measure diversity,” says Dalgleish. “While the benefits of a diverse workforce are obvious for all to see the focus needs to be on making sure law firms have a strong equal opportunities culture, with individuals being selected, developed and promoted on merit.”


Practice management
system: Arista

Document management
system: iManage

Digital dictation: BigHand 

HR system: Octopus