In the past, traditional firms primarily distinguished themselves by their name or the calibre of their legal advice, and there was a perceived distinction between the revenue generators and ‘cost base’ staff.
This had the effect of marginalising and downplaying the valuable skills non-legal professionals brought to the culture and success of law firms. That antiquated idea persists in many firms today – that lawyers are somehow superior to their colleagues in support roles.
But in an era of increasing automation and disruption, attracting and retaining non-practising legal professionals skilled in advanced technologies and management tools has become critical to a firm’s success.
So what should firms do to successfully onboard, retain and nurture their non-lawyer talent?
1. Provide a seamless and personalised onboarding experience
Today’s emphasis on providing more value with client-centric legal services, not just legal advice, requires firms to maintain a wide range of non-legal professionals in key support roles such as pricing, business development, IT and innovation. While it’s not a new concept, the strength of a firm’s onboarding program is key to retaining staff in the long run.1
One key way to incentivise and retain non-lawyer talent is by ensuring your firm has a good onboarding program that conveys your organisation’s culture and objectives, but also personally engages and recognises your new hires’ specific talents from the moment they agree to join the team.
Evidence suggests 2 that a personalised onboarding program that fosters rapport and communication, and recognises diversity, can enhance job satisfaction and productivity, and reduce staff turnover. The loss of non-legal talent is to be avoided as it comes with a plethora of costs including loss of recruitment fees and potential earnings, loss of knowledge, invested training time and damage to your firm ‘brand’ as a great and progressive place to work.
Onboarding software can make all the difference as you welcome new talent to your organisation. It can contemporise a paper-based process, such as signing employment contracts or completing tax file declarations, while representing the firm’s brand and messaging throughout the process. Once the new starter has commenced, software can support and track set tasks and milestones over the induction process, encourage communication and release surveys to the new starter and mentors to collate the progress of their journey.
2. Embrace a firm-wide culture of innovation and collaboration
Another key way to retain non-practising talent is to foster a firm-wide culture of innovation and collaboration which has the effect of erasing both organisational silos that separate professional and technical staff, and the pejorative notion of the ‘non-fee earner’.
Intra-firm teams dedicated to innovation can also encourage internal collaboration that feeds a culture of continuous innovation. Allens, one of the 2016 Legal Innovation Index winners, has recently demonstrated these principles through:
- Allens Arrow: An integrated, bespoke service helping clients undertake major document production more efficiently and cost-effectively through a team of diverse specialists with backgrounds in computer science, consulting, project management and law.
- A-Plus: Its in-house multidisciplinary group. Made up of consultants, technology and pricing experts, and other professionals, they work alongside Allens’ legal team to drive innovation.
NewLaw firm Hive Legal is another practice that is fostering talents and skills beyond legal.
“Respecting and using the diverse skills of our team means that we can enhance the innovative culture of our firm and provide clients with better outcomes,” says Jeremy Snow, principal at Hive Legal. “We see the benefits every day. The different perspectives, skills and approaches that come from other professionals challenge us as lawyers and sometimes take us out of our comfort zones, but the rewards are very real for all involved.”
3. Reward talent across the organisation, and not just financially
It’s commonly acknowledged that lawyers and other fee earners generally receive a higher salary than support staff. Firms that want to attract and retain the best non-lawyer talent can level this playing field by not only remunerating support staff competitively, but also engaging, nurturing and incentivising them to contribute in different, value-added ways. Consider these ideas:
- An open-to-all-staff scheme that rewards any staff member for going above and beyond their job description.
- Implementing a feedback system for all employees to bring forward innovative ideas or suggestions for how things could be done better, letting staff feel valued and heard, and fostering innovation.
- Using practice management software or automating internal processes that will free up staff members for more specialised tasks.
- Including non-practising staff members (e.g. through face-to-face meetings or collaborative sessions) in direct working relationships with clients, fostering feelings of loyalty and empowerment.
- Offering flexible working arrangements to encourage a better work-life balance for all staff.
- Offering a clear idea of career progression within the firm and what is required for a staff member to progress.
- Providing mentoring, training or educational opportunities, enabling talented employees to enhance their portfolio of skills, and thereby increasing their value to the firm.
- Encouraging gender diversity and offering equal opportunities for progression within the firm.
Further, as recent innovative fitouts by Maddocks (Collins Square, Melbourne), Sparke Helmore (MLC Centre, Sydney), Norton Rose Fulbright (St Georges Terrace, Perth) and DLA Piper (Queen Street, Brisbane) demonstrate, a smart, flexible workplace that enables law firm staff and clients to work in various configurations, with common facilities that allow the sharing of knowledge, can also build a stronger firm culture and foster greater employee satisfaction, innovation and collaboration.
In an era of disruption, non-legal professionals have become increasingly vital to a firm’s success. Engaging and empowering these staff – including through the use of new recruitment, communication and practice management technologies – can only serve to boost a firm’s culture and assist the legal team to deliver better and more innovative offerings.
 http://www.hcamag.com/hr-news/onboarding-crucial-to-retention-176945.aspx; http://www.kinsa.com/2015/10/05/why-onboarding-is-crucial-to-retaining-employees/; https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2015/05/29/how-to-get-employee-onboarding-right/#2897bfd5407b
 https://www.shrm.org/foundation/ourwork/initiatives/resources-from-past-initiatives/Documents/Onboarding%20New%20Employees.pdf; http://blog.octanner.com/editor-picks/an-onboarding-checklist-for-success-infographic; http://blog.clickboarding.com/18-jaw-dropping-onboarding-stats-you-need-to-know; http://www.urbanbound.com/blog/onboarding-infographic-statistics