After years of demanding that we all accept that law is now a business rather than an old school tie profession, it seems that firms are finally cracking on to the fact that a business is nothing without its people.
Perhaps they have been spurred into action by an unstable world economy, or maybe it is the effects of 11 September, but finally, after years of treating staff, clients and just about everybody else as little more than commodities, lawyers are waking up and realising that investment in people is crucial.
With consolidation the buzz word of 2002, nearly every firm in town is trying to work out how it can keep its current stock of clients happy while still developing their practice. The answer, as if they really needed telling, is people.
A happy ship is a productive ship, we all know that, but when times are great and business is booming the rulebook is often thrown out of the window. But now, with a more static market and things a little tighter around the edges, it seems someone has switched the light on in law firms and the writing on the wall has become clear – invest in your people and they will invest in you.
Clayton Utz, one of the country's most transactional law firms, has hired top-level human resource guns and brought in management consultants in an effort to ensure the needs of both staff and clients are met. It joins a legion of other firms seeking to redress the balance between the partnership and its team, and this can only be good for business.
Right now, Australian firms are working overtime to secure their foothold in the static local market, while simultaneously shopping for new clients both at home and abroad. Reputation of the practice aside, those who need legal representation are inevitably drawn in as clients because they like the culture and the people of the firm which will be advising them. So it follows that the coupling of key client programmes with strong people policies can make the world of difference to a business.
The commercial reality is that clients will always be the legal profession's priority, and those who choose a career in law should know this. But by working on their businesses from the inside out, and building a satisfied, well-rounded and driven workforce, Australian firms can create wonderful advocates for their practices.