Square Mile

If the various legal journals are an accurate reflection of their readership, we are a profession of extroverts obsessed by the lateral hiring of each other on the one hand and our own pubic relations on the other.

In my firm's case, between May 1995 and May 1999 not one equity partner has been laterally hired, and we have lost just two salaried partners and 14 solicitors. Are we so unattractive to our competitors or can we afford golden handcuffs?

It would seem that neither is the case. A number of very expensive meals being offered to my partners by partners in other firms continues to increase our ample girths. Fortunately, it does not diminish our resolve to stay where we are.

Obviously from time to time certain individuals will be tempted by pockets deeper than ours, but the situation seems to suggest that most of the lawyers that work for us are conscious of lifestyle issues in equal proportion to what is already a very good income by most people's standards.

Those wishing to sell themselves to the highest bidder and live under constant internal pressure can find their Utopia elsewhere.

We all live under the external pressure of competition, market forces and client satisfaction. These are positive and healthy experiences. If this pressure is replicated internally, as seems to happen in several large firms, it is demotivating in the extreme and, what is worse, patently obvious to even the least discerning client.

Failure to address internal issues and the resultant dissatisfaction soon disperses to clients at all levels. What do your staff really think of you? Your clients will certainly know.

The key to staff satisfaction and retention is constant communication, listening to views and acting fairly upon them, providing a positive working environment and encouraging the entrepreneurial skills of your lawyers.

And, of course, paying them reasonably well.

If clients' needs can be met by solicitors working flexible hours and using IT from home, everyone, including the client, will win. It is always vital to consider the client's needs first and it will not work for all types of work. Some of us become too easily distracted.

Also, while no one will argue with the benefits of good public relations, there is a danger of losing touch with the reality of one's own firm. There is constant press coverage on the fantastic individual or team recruited by a top firm, while there is as much silence as possible from the firm which they have left.

It is certainly true to say that the public relations efforts of some firms are magnificent in preventing most of the world from knowing what is actually going on in their firms.