In-house Advisory Board: Recruiting and retaining talent

In-house Advisory Board: Recruiting and retaining talent

How can General Counsel make the recruitment and retention of talentRecruitment and retainmented lawyers central to the culture of the legal team? On 2 July 2015, the LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board met to discuss motivating and developing employees and how to attract new talent to the business.

There is no one right way to recruit and retain talented people. Businesses have to adapt their strategies to thrive and the same applies to in-house legal when it comes to recruitment and retention. Successfully finding and keeping the right people isn’t just about HR policies and process; it is essential to have a clear purpose for the legal team and a vision of the roles and behaviours needed to deliver value to the business.

The LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board’s discussion, facilitated by Ian White, Consultant with LBC Wise Counsel, explored the issues around career progression and development. It was agreed that the job of General Counsel isn’t to take charge of the development of individuals; instead, their role is to plan and provide opportunities and encourage individuals to actively participate in their own development.

Having open conversations about career progression is central to development, as are performance reviews and setting appropriate objectives. The Board also discussed secondments as an opportunity for development. Experiencing another part of the business can make for a better lawyer: it develops commercial understanding and gives an appreciation of the business as a whole. Knowledge isn’t lost when someone is seconded; in fact, legal may get double the person back.

The in-house lawyer role can be good for progressing along the career path more quickly. Yet lawyers approaching retirement are reluctant to look for alternative roles and junior lawyers can’t get promoted because their GC is content in their position. How can the business retain talent in such an environment?

The Board agreed that a culture of honesty is essential for managing expectations and keeping talent. GCs need to be transparent where there is no clear, guaranteed career route. Honesty is about acknowledging where opportunities don’t exist and then seeking out where they do.

A culture can be created that supports retention and the recruitment of the right candidates. The Board suggested that it is incumbent on the GC to work out how to implement that culture and, ultimately, to drive it. The culture can be distinct from that of the wider business but there needs to be some shared vision.

The Board also explored how brand is core to recruitment strategy. People often come to a business on the strength of the brand and not because of the role. To hire great talent, GCs need to engage with the type of people they want and sell the quality of the work and the culture of the team. Candidates are often trying to get away from private practice and the benefits of in-house can be appealing.

Having a framework for learning and development is crucial. The Board shared practical insights for putting in place a framework that motivates teams and serves the business. For lawyers, a strong competency framework can be helpful. It was acknowledged though that what is most important is a plan to develop skills through formal training, mentoring and on-the-job experience.

How much of a motivation is money? In-house budgets are seldom high enough to use pay as a means of solving issues. Objective-based bonuses aren’t always motivational and can skew behaviour. The Board agreed that the best advice is to consider how the whole experience of the role adds value to a lawyer and makes them more valuable in the market – this can be far more significant than money.

Overall, the Board’s discussion highlighted how GCs must have stringent plans in place to integrate, mentor and develop their team. Ultimately, it isn’t a GC’s responsibility to force people to be active in their development, nor are they responsible for the career choices people make. However, a GC does have an important duty to provide opportunities and to encourage people to participate in their own development.

Read a full summary of the LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board meeting here

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About the author:

Sophie is Head of Learning & Development at F-LEX Legal - an award winning legal tech startup helping law firms and organisations manage a flexible work force and supporting lawyers to make smarter life/work choices. 

As part of her portfolio career Sophie runs various learning and development and networking forums for in-house lawyers and mentors junior lawyers.  These include Flying Solo for small and solo legal teams and Aspire for junior in-house lawyers which she runs for LexisNexis UK.  She also works with schools and organisations to promote social mobility within the legal profession, working with The Social Mobility Business Partnership and Aspiring Solicitors. 

She trained as a lawyer in the City and worked as an in-house lawyer for 10 years including as Head of Legal for Virgin Radio and Ginger Media Group.  

Outside of work she is happily married with three sons and enjoys morning walks along the beach with her two dogs.