HR Profile: Browne Jacobson Midlands recruiting

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Three years ago Midlands-based Browne Jacobson had a disappointing level of brand awareness among law students that was leading to a decline in training contract applications. Online applications and feedback at law firms revealed a depressing picture.

“The reputation was weak – we weren’t seen as a first-class regional employer,” says Browne Jacobson HR executive Zena Comrie. This left the Nottingham firm in the lurch as stronger candidates would desert it for the likes of Eversheds if their applications to larger rivals turned out to be successful.

At the time less than half of all applications came from Midlands candidates. Browne Jacobson was highly aware that this could have a knock-on effect on the retention rate, with trainees from other regions less likely to pursue a career at the firm on qualification than their colleagues from the Midlands.

Despite not having a dedicated graduate recruitment team, Browne Jacobson pooled resources in its HR and marketing departments and launched a threefold campaign to improve graduate trainee recruitment, which yielded promising results.

The campaign consisted of the following goals: by 2009, to increase the conversion rate of quality candidates from offer to acceptance to 69 per cent from the 2005 rate of 59 per cent; to raise the levels of prompted and spontaneous awareness among students at preferred universities; and to increase the number of quality applicants for 2009 contracts from Midlands students.

The firm’s strategy was to raise its profile as much as possible. This involved doing the legwork at law fairs and embarking on a number of marketing exercises.

One of the cornerstones of this strategy was an annual sports fair at the University of Nottingham. Students from the universities of Warwick, Leicester and Birmingham were invited along to compete in rugby, netball and football as part of Browne Jacobson’s efforts to target the wider Midlands region.

This was “a good way of grabbing everyone all at once within the target universities”, Comrie points out – and it fitted in with the firm’s objective of being “in the Midlands, for the Midlands”.

Events such as the sports shindig came good. On the first of the three goals, Browne Jacobson was wholly successful, increasing the conversion rate to 71 per cent, while the number of applicants went from 616 in 2005 to 1,133 in 2006. This was 41 per cent over the stated objective of 900 applicants.

Comrie points out that the number of trainees also slightly increased – from 10 in 2005 to 12 in 2007 – although this is driven more by business need than the campaign itself.

The results on the third pillar of the programme have been more mixed. While the number of quality applicants (those with three A-levels and at least a 2:1) did grow, the firm fell 6 per cent short of its goal of having 60 per cent of 2009 applicants coming from the Midlands. The firm argues that the record is still positive, with Midlands applicants growing by 7 per cent, and the firm is marking an own first with trainee vacancies in 2008.

With a series of hurdles overcome, Browne Jacobson is already moving on to new challenges. The firm is now focusing on its website and promotional materials.

It is not easy competing with national firms for quality local candidates, but given the positive results of Browne Jacobson’s campaign perhaps the odd Goliath might sit up and take note of this David.