Workplace & Diversity Awards showcases innovation in HR

The Lawyer Workplace & Diversity Awards ­(formerly The Lawyer HR Awards) reflect the fact that talent issues have become integral to strategic ­thinking at the highest level of law firm management.

As the change of name implies, this year we have broadened the awards to take account of all ­constituencies involved in employee engagement.

The ­ceremony will take place on 7 February 2012 at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane.

Below are the judges’ thoughts on this year’s shortlisted entries.

Meekal Hashmi, general counsel, Old Mutual Asset Managers

It still seems to be the case that certain larger firms are leading the way with innovation in this field. They feel they have a responsibility and the resources to make
a positive difference and this is to be commended.

It is easy to be lazy when it comes to diversity, but the efforts of those firms that went the extra mile were noted. The number of women at the top is still top of the agenda, while social background trails behind. Meanwhile, the issue of a lack of ethnic minorities seems now to be tied to social background.

While the general feeling is a positive one, we seem to be having the same ­conversations year after year, especially with regard to women. Acknowledging an issue is only the first step. It is not enough to stop there, as so many firms appear to be doing. After so many years of these issues being on the table, the time has come to see results. I think we will have to rely on the bigger firms to take that first brave step and act beyond setting up networking groups and merely ­talking about the issue.

It is good to see the growth of alternative roles within firms that allow more women to stay engaged at the top level.

Nicky Paradise, former managing partner, Nabarro

I was really impressed to see the ongoing commitment to people issues shown by the submissions.

In these difficult and uncertain economic times it is easy to think that firms are only interested in preserving profit per equity partner (PEP) by cutting costs and headcounts.

n fact, from reading the submissions, it is clear that engaging, motivating and training people remains a high priority for all firms, whether global or domestic, large or small.

ll shortlisted firms clearly demonstrated a serious commitment to training and development and, from what I could see, to corporate social responsibility in its wider sense.

Andrew Lilley, managing partner, Travers Smith

This was my first time as an awards judge and I found the large number of ­impressive entries made the challenge of choosing winners ­particularly difficult.

The entries were refreshing, first in illustrating the importance now placed by many law firms on diversity initiatives, and second in highlighting the way ­business performance can be enhanced through improved employee engagement and working conditions.

An encouraging feature of a number of the entries was the focus now being placed on all categories of staff (including secretarial functions, HR etc) rather than just the lawyers.

Overall, an innovative set of entries and a far cry from the box-ticking approach.

Tim Cole, former head of HR, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, now partner, QV Career Counsel

Based on these submissions, HR in law firms is not so far behind best market practice as many would have us believe. Of course, I never thought it was. At their best HR professionals are at the heart of their firms, focusing on business issues and making an internal difference as well as a difference more widely.

The best submissions are those that are unfussy, show true innovation rather than wheel reinvention, engagement at every level, including partners, ­credible metrics and ­sustainability.

The shortlist reflects excellence across a broad spectrum of firms where HR courageously takes on the hard yards of driving organisational improvement.

It is also fascinating to see the different firm ­cultures reflected in the submissions.

Debi O’Donovan, editor, Employee

Benefits magazine

It has been interesting to see how over several years the entries in the Employee Benefits category have become more varied.

At one point most firms seemed to be following the herd – for example, by all implementing flexible ­benefits plans. Now, ­however, we see a wider range of benefits strategies being implemented to meet each firm’s business need, be it an employee wellness programme, a total reward strategy or a flexible benefits plan.

Jill Pett, HR and CR director, Capital and Counties

There is a number of themes running through the 2011 submissions. There is repeated evidence of genuine creativity and the ability to adapt to the changing demands of providing legal services in a competitive market. Of particular note are several innovative ­initiatives geared towards boosting performance.

There is also a marked increase in activities designed to measure the effectiveness of HR interventions, along with a sophisticated use of metrics to measure impacts within a firm and evidence that firms are taking the issues of culture and values more seriously.

Firms are acknowledging that HR professionals ­provide a vital sounding board and can be arbiters of fairness.

Finally, it is clear that there is a growing appreciation of the role law firms can play in society.

Catrin Griffiths, editor, The Lawyer

What is clear from the ­submissions is how, in many firms, best practice in people management has become fundamental to commercial strategy.

As law firms are ­reshaping themselves for a globalised, increasingly outsourced and commoditised market, they are taking a hard look at their talent and training requirements. There were some very thoughtful approaches to this among shortlisted firms, and it is heartening to see how smaller firms with less well-resourced HR teams are running imaginative schemes to promote ­engagement.

The judges’ discussions were robust, but we were all in agreement as to the ­excellent overall quality of the entries.

Click here to view the shortlist