Outplacement: a different solution

Outplacement is a growing trend among executives and professionals that are looking for a job change. It offers counselling and careers advice, often to redundant executives, and the service is paid for by their previous employers.

Broadly, outplacement can be seen as a process by which an employee, or a lawyer, goes through a period of change in a structured, confidential and supportive environment. It allows lawyers to assess their careers in the round and not in isolation.

The Government has recently said it is keen to promote outplacement and retraining courses. So much so that in the recent budget it has extended the tax-free provisions for outplacement and retraining skills courses for part-time workers as well as for part-time courses.

Outplacement helps address a variety of issues. How is the change in employment situation being received at home? Who is supporting you in your career at present and who can help you move forward? It is not a miracle cure, but is about working together to manage change, assess the situation, identify career options and assist you with finding a new role.

Most outplacement consultancies offer practical solutions tailored to a lawyer’s situation. Many have sophisticated online tools as well as traditional paper-based resources for researching career alternatives. A good consultant will be experienced in acting as a sounding board, not a board director barking orders. It is about helping lawyers find the right positions and making sure they will be better equipped to succeed when they get there.

So what’s in it for the firm? Here are four reasons why firms choose to use outplacement/careers counselling:

A strong driver is the possibility of future referrals, particularly when someone is contemplating becoming an in-house lawyer, and particularly in a reputation-orientated profession such as law.

The morale of existing employees who may be left behind is enhanced when outplacement is offered to departing employees, particularly those leaving through no fault of their own. Known as the ‘survivor syndrome’, there are potentially damaging issues around what the firm does to manage survivors of a restructure. If not managed properly, existing staff morale and productivity can be severely affected, which can lead to high-profile and damaging team departures.

The partnership and partners who have trained and nurtured a lawyer over a number of years, some with the promise of partnership which has not materialised, can let them go feeling more positive in the knowledge that their former employee will be looked after until they are resettled.

The chances of there being litigation for unfair, wrongful or constructive dismissal are less likely when outplacement is offered. It is worth bearing in mind that the number of Employment Tribunal cases handled by associations increased in 2003 from 2,145 to 2,206, an increase of 3 per cent.

So where do all the lawyers go? The majority stay in the law in some shape or form, with around 40 per cent staying within private practice. Thirteen per cent go in-house, while the remainder are no longer practising. They go on to other careers, including accountancy, banking, company secretary work, judicial panels, tribunals, politics, recruitment, teaching, lecturing, public affairs, PR, marketing, film and HR.

With the recent layoff of workers at Rover and onsite outplacement support on offer, it is clear that outplacement is here to stay and may be experiencing an upturn.

Charles Boyle is a management consultant at Hudson Human Capital Solutions