Law firms must embrace this new era of flexibility

The central strategic issue and challenge for law firms has always been the recruitment, motivation and development of good lawyers.

This challenge has become even greater in the present economic and professional environment for a number of reasons.

The divisions that once existed between traditional professions, services and manufacturing have become blurred as the economy becomes more knowledge based.

In addition, we have seen for many years increased mobility within the profession.

Length of service is no longer considered to be a badge of honour and may even be seen as demonstrating a lack of enterprise or talent.

Competition for talented lawyers increases each year and therefore the opportunities for change are multiplying.

The combination of these factors means that we are also seeing a wider mobility beginning to emerge where skills obtained in commercial legal practices are becoming transferable to other knowledge-based services.

As we move towards multidisciplinary practices this flexibility and mobility can only increase.

This means that assistant solicitors are continuously assessing their position against what is on offer elsewhere, including outside the profession.

As the management of law firms focus on retention they instinctively reach for their cheque books.

Money in itself will not cure the issue, although it obviously has a part to play in creating a motivated environment.

However, whatever in-ducements one puts in the path of young lawyers, to focus merely on retention is, I believe, misunderstanding the market.

As people have traditionally used accountancy as a stepping stone to other careers, the law is now increasingly being seen as a useful grounding for jobs in the financial and commercial markets.

In order to attract the best talent, law firms have to demonstrate that they are not only motivating breeding grounds for talent but they participate in helping individuals to realise their ambitions.

To this end, law firms need to offer career counselling to lawyers which helps them to make the decisions, which may involve staying with the firm but may often result in their leaving.

By building a business on what is often known as the McKinsey model – populating the world with people trained in your organisation and who you have helped in their careers – serves not only to meet the reality of the present market but inures to the benefit of the firm.

The game is not retention but rather the building of a reputation as the best place to be and the best place to be from.