Expert Advice: Why Law Firms Are Focused on Talent Management

Law firms are increasingly turning to their human resources departments for strategic insights, and for good reason. A firm’s biggest asset is its legal talent, and HR is directly responsible for talent management.

Alison Bernard, chief talent officer at Dechert LLP, and Catherine Zawierka, chief talent officer at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, discussed this trend in a recent webinar hosted by The American Lawyer. Patrice Capello, strategic industry advisor for professional and business services at Workday, added insights about the intersection of talent management and technology to the discussion.

Below, we’ve highlighted key takeaways from the webinar.

Align your talent management strategy with your firm’s strategic goals. Bernard says when she first joined Dechert, she was tasked with creating a cohesive talent program. She met with senior leadership and together they established their mission: To champion the firm, shape its inclusive culture, identify and attract diverse talent, and nurture and retain people with best-in-class resources and opportunities to help them reach their professional goals. She says focusing on a mission helped Dechert champion the supportive teaching culture the firm has today.

While HR operates in its own department, it impacts every employee in the organization.

Take a holistic approach to the talent lifecycle. This begins with recruiting, which includes attracting promising law school candidates as well as seasoned attorneys. To recruit top talent, your organization must be able to differentiate itself from other firms and provide a great candidate experience throughout the recruitment process, says Zawierka. She stresses the importance of focusing on the message you’re sending to the external market and communicating how your firm is different.

Once you’ve found the right people, it’s important to develop and retain them. Firms must provide skills-based training for employees, whether that’s through training courses, mentorships, or other programs. Bernard explains how Dechert has a coaching program and in-house career counselor who’s available to any lawyer on a confidential basis. They work with attorneys on career planning, relationship development, business development, setting goals toward promotions, and more.

Bernard says each generation has a different comfort level with the coaching model, and that millennials have embraced and utilized it more than their senior partners do. It’s important to understand what motivates each generation in your workforce so you can create the right programs that appeal to them, she adds.

Strengthen communications across the organization. While HR operates in its own department, it impacts every employee in the organization. As such, Bernard explains that HR should be involved in any decision that impacts employees.

HR leaders need to understand the firm’s short-term and long-term strategy and how human capital impacts it. Zawierka advises that they must know how to communicate up and down the chain. Beyond developing relationships with associates and managers, HR needs to be able to bridge the different needs and expectations of the associate population and upper management, as well as across different generations. HR also has a role in helping employees understand how to best support company goals.

Partner closely with information technology. A successful talent management strategy also involves close alignment with IT. Bernard emphasizes that a strong partnership will help HR better prepare employees for new innovations coming onboard and allow for the development of programs and policies to capitalize on them. Zawierka adds that as client expectations continue to increase, IT can ensure a firm’s employees are using the best internal and external facing technologies to increase efficiency.

Traditionally, law firms haven’t invested heavily in technology across the board. However, this is changing due to a number of reasons: increased customer expectations, competition for talent, and technology replacing billable tasks, says Capello. She explains that firms can be best-in-class from a service delivery perspective when it puts employees at the center. That happens, she says, by recruiting and retaining the best talent, effectively engaging employees, operating more efficiently, and creating a system of record.

To learn more about the roles that HR and technology play in today’s changing legal workforce, watch “Videocast Replay: Industry Experts on Workforce Technology.”