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Monday, July 23, 2007

Getting good people to work in a law firm Part 2

Continuing on from Sunday nights post.

Talent Management in accountancy firms is usually left to a mid tier person, whereas from my experience in law firms it is primarily the partner, though I have noticed it increasingly following the accountancy model and for it to be delegated to a lower ranked solicitor. 

From talking to junior solicitors, they do feel that their seniors treat them like 'privates in an army' and expendable if they don't come up to speed. The problem with this is that you are potentially throwing away future assets to your firm. Junior solicitors might just benefit from a quick 5 minute feedback on the way back to a desk after a client meeting.

My view is that like the Japanese we should consider a sensei model where someone gradually attains master status after undergoing a period of training on the job and a variety of roles achieving certain milestones. It is important however, that this training is recognised by any firm incentive system as highlighted last night.

The important thing to remember is that not everyone wants to be a partner. The great footballer Didier Deschamps was- derisively - described by Eric Cantona as "the water-carrier" by which Cantona meant that Deschamps only existed to pass the ball to more talented players. 

This description masked a very valuable player for a number of top teams. The stars in your organisations need these people to enable them to do their jobs more effectively and they should not be lost to any talent management process - just used more widely and in interesting work. 

Some law firms have recognised this by introducing intermediate grades between partner and associate as a means of retaining good workers and rewarding them. 

It is also important to ensure that long serving partners who are retained as consultants which helps partners who have been with the firm a long time to arrange what the Japanese call amakudari or 'descent from heaven' by helping them to adjust to life outside the firm, but also ensuring that they pass on their expertise to the organisation and it's staff.

The other challenge that knowledge based firms face is ensuring that employees have more flexible packages - a recent diversity survey has shown in English law firms that very few ethnic minorities make it to partner level - whilst firms like Lewis Silkin have over 40% of its partners who are women. 

Occasionally we need to look at what Hewlett calls off-ramping for people to undertake not only traditional maternity leave but also more and more likely to occur when dealing with elderly parents and possibly in-laws.

As the war for talent steadily increases and people look for more flexibility from their employer. I think that knowledge based firms of all persuasions need to keep an eye on what other similar firms are doing and see if their good ideas can be borrowed and used in your organisation.

As William Blake aptly put it in The Four Zoas and it seems apt for a knowledge based firm.

"What is the price of Experience? do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither'd field where the farmer plows for bread in vain."

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