Trainee solicitor Hilda-Georgina, blogging for The Lawyer Portal, explains that a common thread uniting graduates contemplating a legal career, trainee solicitors, and recently qualified associates (2-3 years PQE), is the desire to work in an environment where employees are made to feel valued.
Recruits want to feel challenged to perform to the best of their ability and be supported in a professional as well as pastoral manner in order to facilitate continuous development.
The importance of promoting volunteering and pro bono
Every law firm has unique selling points whether it be market focus, sector expertise or practice areas. Whilst billable hours are a priority for all firms because they are businesses too; the financial focus should be balanced with community initiatives.
For example, I'm training at a firm that coordinates with local schools to provide reading support and mentoring to students. Law firms do not operate in isolation, they form part of the fabric of society and should play a role in positively shaping their local community. Volunteering projects such as preparing meals and helping people at soup kitchens or preparing legal letters for residents at law clinics should all be encouraged by law firms.
Firms that promote volunteering and pro bono initiatives are simultaneously equipping fee earners with communication, interpersonal and problem-solving skills as well as living out the example of the Good Samaritan. It is an honour to serve those in our local community. Personally, volunteering with young people with learning disabilities in Harrow paved the way for me to perform the role of an Athlete Escort at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and to meet the Queen!
Digital tools in the workplace
Legal recruits are increasingly tech savvy and will expect their prospective employer to be embracing digital tools such as Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business and e-disclosure platforms for reviewing electronic documents in litigation proceedings. Law firms that fail to modernise will be left behind.
Agile working practices
Undeniably, prospective fee earners will be impressed if computer hard drives are replaced by laptops. This serves the twin aims of providing flexibility as laptops can be taken to meetings, conferences and to court as well as promoting agile working because employees can work from home. A working from home pilot scheme should be rolled out across the firm to identify the most effective way to implement agile working practices.
Social media management
Pin it, post it or tweet it, it is prudent that all law firms have a social media policy which is explained over a compulsory training session. Training on the importance of social media management to protect the firm's brand and the personal brands of employees should be informative, practical and interactive.
It must be impressed upon legal recruits that they are ambassadors for the firm both online and offline. The integrity, reputation and values of the firm should not be undermined by an individual's pursuit for likes, retweets and followers. Invariably, law firms prefer favourable publicity in the legal press rather than controversial, salacious or inappropriate social media posts finding their way into the tabloids.
Approach to work-life balance
Firms should avoid reducing work-life balance to a slogan especially if it is misleading. Some law firms require their fee earners to regularly work long hours which is reflected in a higher salary. Legal recruits will need to make the choice of whether they are happy to sacrifice the time they would otherwise dedicate to their personal life (family, social and hobbies) for a heftier pay package then their contemporaries.
Arguably, the legal profession is set against the backdrop of the dichotomy between higher pay and long hours on the one hand and lower pay and manageable hours on the other hand. Firms should be open, honest and transparent about the expectations for future joiners. A strong work ethic is a prerequisite at any firm, and prospective lawyers should be placed in a position where they can make an informed decision about whether their professional and personal aspirations align with the firm's focus on the bottom line.
The DNA of a law firm: diversity, inclusion, well-being and mental health
Diversity, inclusion, well-being and mental health should be the four interlocking strands in a firm's DNA. A workplace that fosters diversity of thought, approach and experiences is a hotbed for creativity, innovation and excellence. Legal recruits from all walks of life are more likely to feel valued in an environment where meritocracy rules and the parameters of success are limitless rather than predefined because of race, gender, class or heteronormativity. Committees and networks run by employees should be supported at partner level by way of championing causes and providing the financial support needed to organise talks, activities and campaigns.
A diverse and inclusive workplace is underpinned by the safeguarding of the wellbeing and mental health of employees. Law firms should put in place initiatives such as Mental Health & Wellbeing Weeks with sessions on nutrition and relaxation, free massages and hosting talks from mental health charities such as Mind.
Law firms are seeking to hire problem solvers, creative minds and lateral thinkers which means that they should be actively providing pastoral support so that fee earners can stay at the top of their game. By doing so, law firms are creating a habitat where employees can continually perform to the best of their ability and enhanced productivity bolsters profit margins.
Dos and Don'ts
Legal recruits want to work at firms with a strong ethos and an authentic commitment to the advancement of society at large and to their employees; in the form of a sustained and ambitious effort to institutionalise diversity, inclusion, well-being and mental health. Law firms should therefore avoid misleading prospective joiners on the reality of the day-to-day working life and the firm's commitment to volunteering, pro bono, agile working and work-life balance.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
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