It has been one of the worst years in living memory for anyone working in law firm HR: recruitment was frozen; redundancies were widespread; and retention policies – so much the focus of law firms’ efforts in recent times – were abandoned as management focus switched to reducing headcounts.
Still, just a couple of weeks after it was announced that the UK was out of recession, the mood at The Lawyer HR Awards was upbeat. Many of the HR teams present had themselves suffered redundancies, but their importance to the business was clearly recognised by many major firms, as the presence of senior management partners from Addleshaw Goddard, Allen & Overy, CMS Cameron McKenna, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Pinsent Masons testified.
The winners were all firms and individuals who displayed tenacity and verve during one of the toughest years in their experience. Norton Rose won HR Team of the Year, the big award of the night, and the trophy for Innovation for Talent Management and Retention with its work on Flex. The Flex scheme enabled individuals to sign up to work either four-day weeks on 85 per cent of pay or to take sabbaticals for up to 12 weeks at 30 per cent of pay. It was adopted after a staff vote saw 97 per cent of employees in favour, and Norton Rose, unlike virtually every other major City law firm, avoided any redundancies. “It’s not a soft issue, it’s a business issue, and we facilitated that business decision,” says Norton Rose London HR head Lak Purewal.
“But obviously, without the support and commitment from the senior people in the business [the rollout] wouldn’t have worked.”
Norton Rose may have carried off the big award, but in many ways Pinsent Masons was the team to beat.
Its consistency and commitment was demonstrated by the fact that it was shortlisted in four categories and was highly commended in the categories of HR Team of the Year and the Most Effective Diversity Programme.
Doing the job on less money was a theme of the evening. As Clarke Willmott’s Joanna Parker, who won HR Director of the Year, comments: “There are challenges with budget constraints, but despite that we don’t want to put the closed sign up on our initiatives.” Indeed, many of The Lawyer HR Awards’ winners delivered projects on straitened budgets. The Excellence in Training Award was won by Berwin Leighton Paisner for a relaunched programme that made cost reductions by harnessing internal delivery of training and getting partners and managers involved with team development, drawing on the firm’s own intellectual resources.
Browne Jacobson, the winner of the Best Graduate Trainee Recruitment Campaign Award , was startlingly energetic and commendably focused and served as an example of how a relatively small campaign can deliver excellent candidates. Farrer & Co was highly recommended for its imaginative work on employee benefits, despite not having a big budget. Its HR team made up for financial constraints with an imaginative focus on health and wellbeing.
Magic circle firms also came up with innovative ways of engaging their workforces. Freshfields was highly commended in the Most Effective Internal Communication category for its Freshers’ Fair approach. The two-week event included some 90 sessions delivered by more than 200 people, with stands manned by and demonstrations delivered by social groups, sports teams and suppliers to the firm’s restaurant. There was even a Festival Fringe, which showcased what Freshfields describes as “the more esoteric talents” of staff.
For more analysis of the winning entries, see The Lawyer HR Awards book of the night, out with your copy of The Lawyer on 22 March.