We listened to associates. Now partners have to do their bit – David Morley, Allen & Overy

Allen & Overy” />Just over a week ago, as many of you will have read in The Lawyer, Allen & Overy announced an innovative new career and reward structure for its London associates.

This was something we thought of after a year of listening to our associates. Working with our HR experts, we believe we have come up with a programme that reflects not only the feedback we received, but the core values of the firm: developing individual potential and strong teamwork.

Naturally, the plans have some practical benefits for the firm. By sweeping away the annual ‘communist’ bonus system – where everyone received the same flat rate regardless of their contribution to the success of the firm that year – we now have greater flexibility to work as a global business in local markets.

So how has the plan been received so far? Now that the dust has settled, it all seems to have gone rather well, but this is just the first step on a long road for us and our associates.

Our new London associate award plan is based around the individual and their contribution to the whole. For that to work, we have to start a process of communication and education. This will involve the partners throughout the practice areas, the associates and support staff, so everyone understands what it all means for them as individuals.

We are going to have to explain the importance of ‘doing the right thing’. At the forefront of this must be our partners. It is vital that not just as a partnership, but also as individuals we lead from the front.

Partners all need to make time so that individual career appraisals work for all concerned. In other industries this is the norm, but if we are honest the legal profession does not have a great reputation for helping people manage their careers. That has to change. The legal sector has to mature. We believe that we have a responsibility as a leading global firm to be at the forefront of this.

We also want to ensure we deliver on our promises. For example, we need to develop versatile lawyers capable of working in more than one discipline. So when a partner has career discussions with an associate who wants to experience other practice areas, we must encourage that where we can. The challenge to individual practice areas is to realise that fighting for the best staff is not an acceptable way to build a long-term, sustainable, business.

We are also tackling appraisal skills. The skills of a great lawyer are not necessarily those of a great people manager. We will be coaching partners in key areas, such as performance appraisals, so we can be honest and fair with our people.

We all know how easy it is to grade staff as excellent when they are really just good, just to avoid conflict. And the challenge of tackling those who need improvement in a constructive manner so we can turn them into star performers can take time.

However, our new programme is a two-way street. Associates who have never had career management will now have to think more about what they want from the firm and what they want to achieve.

As part of focusing on doing the right thing we need to take that most important of legal skills, listening to clients, and listen to ourselves.

Over the next few months I am sure we will see our competitors come up with ways of trying to compete with our innovations. I expect some will just raise the basic salary for associates, or maybe offer more fringe benefits. But we do not believe the answer to associate retention and career progression is just about money, holidays or ‘the package’.

We believe the future of a great firm lies in doing the right thing by the individual – and that will mean we can also do the right thing for our clients.