SJ Berwin unveils plans to motivate disengaged workforce

SJ Berwin is planning to introduce widespread changes to improve staff and partner engagement after admitting that it has traditionally struggled to keep its workforce motivated.

The firm is set to get associates more involved in its sector approach, bring in better opportunities for promotions and make it easier for lawyers to undertake global travel and international secondments.

The initiatives were discussed at a wide-ranging strategy day for partners at the firm’s London headquarters last Saturday (6 October).

It follows a review by an outside consultancy, which confirmed the firm’s much-discussed reputation for poor workforce engagement. This reached a peak last year amid the backlash following the firm’s admission that a vacation scheme student had been asked to stay up until 5am to work on a mandate (26 July 2011).

A firm spokesperson said: “There was […] a big focus on our people [at the partners’ day]. As you know, we’ve historically had an issue with engaging our people, and we want to fix this and there’ll be a number of changes coming out of the meeting.”

In a related move, the firm is planning to revive its sector approach following a review by newly recruited business development head William Stancer, which came to the decision that the firm needed to re-energise this strategy. Stancer, who is heading the sector initiative, joined the firm from Chinese outsourcing provider Bleum in May.

The firm currently operates seven sector groups: real estate; private equity; TMT; consumer; financial institutions; energy and infrastructure; and lifesciences and healthcare.

The spokesperson added: “William Stancer, our new director of business development, presented his client development programme, which will have a renewed sector focus. This was followed by facilitated break-out sessions focused on how we can provide better service levels across the entire firm to help meet our client needs. We’re keen for associates to play a leading role in this.”

Separately, partners were also sounded out on the upcoming partnership board elections, which will be finalised this week. Applications for the three available positions – one German and two general – have been accepted by firm management ahead of an electronic vote, which lasts from today (15 October) to Wednesday, with the results set to be announced on Thursday.

The board was introduced last year by managing partner Rob Day, with eight partners voted in (20 January 2011).