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In an increasingly globalised world where large US firms are an increasingly attractive option for trainee or newly qualified lawyers, British firms have to compete with international recruiters in order to secure the cream of the crop. The high cost of recruiting and training a lawyer means that even if you manage to attract the top talent, ensuring your fee earners remain on board is extremely important; aside from potentially losing clients, the cost of replacing an associate-level solicitor is estimated to be £125,000. So how do you tackle the big bucks allure of the American outfits and keep a tight ship?
Although the salary level and type of work will generally comprise the most significant factors when it comes to choosing an offer, many lawyers will consider a range of other elements such as working environment, flexibility and attitude of their future employer. The effective use of technology is integral to many of these “working style” related decisions.
Over the last twenty years or so, expectations of working life have changed for most professionals, not least those working in the legal sector. As I wrote about in a recent article -Why your firm should embrace flexible working - young lawyers are jumping at opportunities to achieve a better work-life balance through flexible working. But in order to offer flexibility to their fee earners, law firms must first ensure that the enabling technology is in place.
Software is becoming increasingly more important than hardware for law firms. Most employees will already have a variety of internet connected devices for personal use - including a laptop, smartphone and tablet - so it makes little sense to provide them with duplicate hardware for work use. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies can significantly reduce overall technology spend - as well as providing peace of mind regarding data protection issues - and they are popular amongst potential hires (one survey indicated that 44% of job seekers view organisations with a BYOD more positively).
But adopting appropriate software is crucial - whether it’s a sophisticated case management system, web hosted email or relevant collaborative tools - in order to allow fee earners to work in a more agile way, without being constrained by time or location. Providing cross-platform, cloud-hosted software which can be accessed from any device in any WiFi spot - whether it’s a Windows 10 laptop in the office, an Android phone in the coffee bar or an iPad at home - is far more effective, appreciated and cheaper than simply issuing company laptops and mobiles to new starters.
Firms which embrace the latest IT developments demonstrate a forward thinking approach which is very appealing to many new entrants to the legal profession. Although the technology itself is a boon, the attitude is just as important because it shows a willingness to engage with a modern way of working. Tech companies have traditionally led the way in implementing progressive employment practices such as flexible working, partly due to their adoption of new technologies which allow people to work towards a common objective independently and without being in the same room; in the mid-90s this was email (completely absent in most law firms until after the turn of the century), and more recently it’s cloud based project or case management systems.
It’s worth bearing in mind that many of the pioneers of the internet itself were quite anarchic and built a system which inherently precluded central control (section 2.4) and rejected hierarchy, presaging the flat organisational style and “Theory Y” management approach which has become so popular amongst 21st century employees. Although modern tech companies have commercialised the internet, the groundbreaking spirit lives on, and high-tech employers - as well as those who adopt a technologically progressive approach - reap the benefits in terms of attracting and retaining the top talent, especially amongst younger generations.
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