UK Roundup: Management

Firms are ahead of the game on new ageism law

Firms are ahead of the game on new ageism law

Last week (1 October) finally saw the introduction of wide-ranging age discrimination legislation. For many in the legal market the significance of the much-trailed changes is yet to become clear.

The introduction of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, which prevent employers from using age as a recruitment criteria, led to a report in The Lawyer (2 October) that Clifford Chance and Simmons & Simmons had revamped their recruitment strategies after deeming the term ‘PQE’ to be in contravention of the new laws.

This followed news in September that the in-house legal and HR teams at Asda had already implemented a radical recruitment strategy to comply with the laws. The Lawyer (4 September) reported that the supermarket giant was to scrap the requirement for job applicants to disclose their date of birth on application forms. Asda has also decided not to implement the retirement process that is part of the new law, claiming that it did not want such a “bureaucratic system” for its employees.

HR directors at the UK’s top 10 law firms have spent up to 18 months examining their firm’s internal policies in order to make sure they are compliant with the new legislation. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, for example, has renamed its graduate recruitment department ‘trainee solicitor recruitment’ to avoid any ageist connections with the term ‘graduate’.

Like Asda, Freshfields has also ditched the requirement for a date of birth on application forms.

At the other end of the scale, however, the jury still appears to be out as to whether or not a lockstep remuneration system contravenes the new age laws.

As Allen & Overy partner Richard Turnor, who has been advising law firms on how to comply with the legislation, said: “In order to justify lockstep, you have to have thought through how the lockstep meets or doesn’t meet business needs.”

Expect the first wave of litigation sooner rather than later.

JPMorgan launches new gay initiative

Discrimination of a different sort was on the agenda over at JPMorgan last month (The Lawyer, 4 September), with assistant general counsel and managing director Tim Hailes spearheading a major diversity campaign for London- based gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) employees.

The initiative was designed to build trust among the bank’s gay employees. It featured an internal website, a poster campaign and discussions with gay rights group Stonewall.

Hailes, himself openly gay since he joined the bank in 1999, is the diversity representative on the bank’s global legal group and helped to develop the ‘Pride’ initiative to encourage a more inclusive working and networking culture.

He said diversity and inclusivity was all about “engaging each individual in the work environment. If people only feel able to engage 60 per cent of their individuality in the workplace then they can surely only ever be 60 per cent as good as their maximum potential”.

Low number of equity partners causes a stir

September began with the publication of The Lawyer UK 100 Annual Report (4 September).

Along with the expected review of the past financial year and the detailed report on who was up or down, for the first time the book contained an analysis of the equity partnership of every firm in the top 100. The research confirmed what had been suspected for some time – that the number of equity partners across most firms was shrinking.

Howard Kennedy came bottom of the list of firms in London. Just 19 of its 67 partners, or 28 per cent, are full equity. Still, it beat Newcastle firm Watson Burton, where only seven of the firm’s 40 partners (or 17 per cent) are full equity.

Or at least they were until last month, when a coup ejected senior partner Andrew Hoyle not only from his management role, but from the firm (first reported on, 26 September). The revolt highlighted the dangers of a tight equity in a partnership. Both Howard Kennedy and Watson Burton have, proportionately, enormous ranks of salaried partners who may feel excluded, not just from the money that can accompany full equity partnership, but also from having a full role in the running of their firm.

True, not all of them would want the responsibilities that go with ownership, but it appears that enough of them did at Watson Burton to ferment unrest.

In that context, The Lawyer’s groundbreaking equity partnership table in the UK 100 Annual Report makes particularly interesting reading for an increasingly large, and vocal, group of lawyers.

Paper billing to be a thing of the past

In-house management issues featured last month as a number of major banks revealed radical plans to ditch traditional billing methods in favour of electronic systems that would give them realtime access to live transactions (The Lawyer, 25 September).

ABN AMRO and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) both confirmed that they were hoping to move away from traditional paper billing. And RBS deputy general counsel Chris Campbell pointed out that he expected all of his bank’s main law firms to adopt the new system once it was introduced.

Barclays’ chief operating officer for legal and compliance, Richard Daniel, said that the bank, which adopted e-billing around a year ago, was focusing on the benefits of spend- management technology from a control and management information perspective. “This includes tracking our spend and analysing it in more detail for trends,” he added.

But as The Lawyer pointed out, if the banks demand this, they may also have certain obligations towards their advisers. If the client is getting regular, up-to-date information, then it is going to have to pay its lawyers regularly.

As one partner put it: “If it’s automatic billing, why can’t we have automatic payment?”