Hill Dickinson CEO interview: law firm organic growth in the wake of COVID-19

Hill Dickinson CEO interview: law firm organic growth in the wake of COVID-19

From ‘The Great Resignation’ to digital-first practices, the COVID-19 pandemic had a notable ripple effect across industries. For many law firms it led to an unprecedented spike in activity, with teams negotiating remote working, new challenges in nurturing client relationships and new opportunities for cross-team collaboration. 

LexisNexis asked Peter Jackson, Chief Executive at Hill Dickinson, for his take on the global ‘war for talent’, why tech teams are keeping clients happy and whether business travel is making a comeback.

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What does the hiring landscape look like in a post-COVID world?

If the war for talent was localised 12 months ago, it's now truly global. It’s fuelled, largely, by American firms who are willing to pay enormous sums of money for relatively junior hires. This is having a ripple effect on demand across disciplines, all the way to the regional level.

This has been exacerbated by the unprecedented demand for legal services in the commercial arena over the past financial year. Supply and demand have been out of kilter, which has caused many people to become overworked, stressed and burnt out.

Therefore, as a firm – and I believe we are typical of the industry – where we’ve had resignations they have been for a range of reasons: sometimes financial; sometimes because an individual is leaving the law entirely or moving in-house; and sometimes because they are taking a sabbatical or early retirement.

As well as retention, attraction is another challenge for the legal sector at the moment. Anyone on the market with a decent track record has options about the level of compensation they opt for, where they live, what working style they prefer, even share options if they choose to join a start-up. That makes hiring extremely competitive.

What strategies have you put in place to retain and attract lawyers?

At Hill Dickinson it has been less about adding new hiring strategies and more about where we’ve had to compromise on existing strategies. For example, ideally we would like our people to spend the majority of their time in the office, depending on their role and seniority. It helps enormously with training, learning by osmosis, camaraderie, blue sky thinking, and a host of other things. However, we need to remain very flexible for the time being so that we don’t risk pushing people away.

With inflation continuing to rise, it will be interesting to see how the market changes over the next few months. We will continue to keep an eye on how things are moving and adapt as much as we need to.

How does collaboration between different legal practice areas or support functions drive growth in your firm?

Cross-discipline collaboration has been at a height over the last two years, simply because of the sheer number of deals that have been taking place. Collaborative working has been essential to meet demand.

Now, though, you are also starting to see mainstream acceptance of collaboration between lawyers and technical support, and a recognition that client services can be enhanced by integrating that type of support early on.

For example, many clients in industries like healthcare have legitimate concerns around data protection. It makes sense to have direct and streamlined technical support to reassure everyone that we have the relevant protections in place.

How has your business development strategy evolved, or otherwise, in the wake of COVID?

From early 2020 the ability to interface directly with clients, and potential clients, stopped completely and it didn’t return at all until last summer. While that led to some useful new skills in client maintenance and development, many of our lawyers found it challenging to build brand new relationships via a screen.

Increasingly now, we are seeing a return in the demand for face-to-face contact. And this isn’t just within our firm; it’s a sector-wide trend. If we don’t embrace it, we’re in danger of missing out. We’re trying to balance this return to travel with keeping our carbon footprint under control.

Of course, there are some clients that are happy to continue with online communication, as it saves everyone time.

How are you thinking about growth more generally at the moment?

We are trying to be realistic about growth projections over the coming months. Over the last two years, we saw levels of growth in the legal space that no one could have anticipated. We simply won’t see the same levels of growth continue, in terms of demand, turnover and profitability. We need to manage expectations around that as a sector.

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