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The HR Challenges Faced by Legal Firms

3rd May 2018
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The legal profession has always done things a bit differently to most other sectors, with long hours and an “interesting” take on work-life balance, for example. The HR teams in legal firms have to deal with various special challenges as a result of the way the firms operate and the basic nature of legal practice. Routine HR tasks like staffing and holiday entitlement can be made more complex than they are in other professions, so these are the challenges the teams should focus on.

The reporting structure in the firm

Most law firms have a complex reporting system, even specialist firms like motoring lawyers Kenway Miller. There’s a lot of overlap in the reporting structure – lawyers have to supervise their assistants’ work, but these support staff must report to HR when it comes to personnel issues and administration. A conflict can arise over something like a leave request – HR may want to allow the request because the assistant has earned the time off, but the lawyer knows there’s a big case on the go that needs all hands on deck for the next month. The HR team must deal with these conflicts in a consistent manner so that even if someone’s application for holiday is denied, it’s done fairly and there’s a compromise reached.

Strict confidentiality

Of course, all HR departments have confidentiality issues – pay levels, health matters and so on – but HR teams in legal firms are expected to hold higher levels of confidentiality than most others. Employees, from the lawyers fighting the case to the interns, must not discuss the intricacies of particularly interesting cases outside of the chambers. Discretion is vital and it’s important for HR to remind all employees of this. Not only should there be a clear policy, but HR should review the policy annually and make sure that new and existing employees know all about it. Any violations of the policy should be disciplined so that the high standards are maintained.

Ongoing training

All businesses need a workforce that’s well-trained and that has ongoing professional development. Lawyers are obligated to meet minimum educational standards and to undertake a minimum of continuing education programmes. New lawyers need help to develop themselves in marketing, presentation skills and client communication, for example. Administration staff must constantly update their knowledge and expertise in filing procedures and systems and everyone needs to stay abreast of new software and updates. Making sure that there’s a robust and responsive professional development system in place is one of the most important services the HR department provides.

Handling stress

A law firm can be a uniquely stressful work environment – a lot of the work involved has hard deadlines that must be met if the lawyer is to stand a chance of winning a case. There’s often a huge rush at the end of each working day as everyone tries to submit drafts and other forms and this can put everyone from the senior partners to the office juniors under a lot of pressure. Just by acknowledging this stress can ease a lot of it as everyone knows that they’re not alone, but staggering work schedules can be an even bigger help. If some employees start later in the day they’ll still be fresh enough to handle the end-of-day crush with relative ease. An early and a late shift can also keep overtime costs down and help working parents to manage their work-life balance better.

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