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From Intent to Inertia: Why Some Law Firms Struggle To Uphold their New Year’s Resolutions

  • February 6, 2024

From Intent to Inertia: Why Some Law Firms Struggle To Uphold their New Year’s Resolutions

With the first month of the new year now in the bag, it is highly probable that those ‘New Year’ resolutions set at the back end of 2023 have already been broken – at least those set on a personal level where exercise or the quitting of bad habits are usually top of those lists.

In this regard, it is estimated that as many as 80% of people fail to keep their resolutions by February, with only a mere 8% seeing them through for the entirety of the year.

A 4000-year Old Tradition

The act of setting goals at the start of a new calendar year is reported to date back to Ancient Babylonians some 4000 years ago where ‘debts were promised to be paid to gods and borrowed objects returned’. And, whilst the new year promises were deeply entwined with religion and mythology, the premise of a ‘new beginning’ is one that has carried through for many thousands of years.

While resolutions are often associated with personal goals, they hold equal importance when it comes to business – especially around setting annual objectives and reflecting on the overall strategy in an ever-changing environment where continual review of the road ahead is crucial.

Most businesses will review their new year plans in quarter four when typically, there is enough information to reflect back on metrics and KPIs for the current year, assess whether or not objectives will be hit, and allow some wiggle room to re-calibrate and focus on ending the year on a high.

Objectives or ‘new year resolutions’ therefore have likely long been set at this juncture – and for those firms set on a growth trajectory, these will likely include executing hiring plans as well as a laser-sharp focus on staff retention.

Are Your Business Resolutions Still on Track?

At the stroke of midnight on 1st January, and the subsequent return to the office after the festive break, law firms will no doubt have set their sights kickstarting the 2024 objectives with intent. However, as the first quarter unfolds, it appears that some legal practices may be encountering obstacles in adhering to their hiring-focused resolutions.

Even one calendar month down the line, and then as the year progresses, it’s essential for law firms to reassess their hiring objectives, adapt to unforeseen challenges, and remain committed to the path of growth – especially when you consider a recent statistic that 75% of UK businesses are in a state of ‘existence’ or just surviving.

So what areas should firms be focussed on to ensure their well-intentioned goals remain on track?

Streamline (and Standardise) Your Hiring Process:

The aspiration to streamline hiring processes and avoid past mistakes holds promise, but the intricate decision-making within law firms can pose challenges. If you recruit regularly, it is worth looking to standardise processes where possible, albeit not at the detriment to the often-unique experiences of each individual candidate that comes into contact with the firm. An ethical approach to recruitment is recommended here – and is becoming a non-negotiable in the current candidate-led market.

Enhance Diversity Efforts:

Despite the emphasis on diversity and inclusion, some law firms may struggle to make significant progress due to ingrained practices and a lack of comprehensive strategies. Overcoming unconscious biases and fostering an inclusive environment requires continuous effort, which may not be progressing as rapidly as intended. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are not just buzzwords or an acronym to add to your customer-facing marketing; they are essential components of a successful business strategy of any firm that aims to remain competitive. As the glue that keeps social dynamics within a business and in turn, team competence and efficacy functioning at its highest capacity, it is indispensable to your hiring strategy, whatever your recruitment goals or objectives may be, and when done right, it can be instrumental in keeping your talent attraction and retention efforts on track.

It is perhaps concerning then, that firms are yet to treat it as more than an emerging trend in practice, and some go only as far as paying lip service when professing to make it a central part of their recruitment efforts. If you’re serious about taking your hiring game to the next level in 2024, then this is a great place to start. We look at how to build a DEI strategy that supercharges your recruitment efforts here.

 

Revisit Your Job Descriptions:

Job descriptions may be overlooked as daily legal tasks take precedence. Busy schedules can result in insufficient attention to crafting comprehensive and appealing job descriptions, making it difficult to attract top-tier talent.

However, as the hiring landscape evolves, legal candidates still rely on engaging, informative, and powerful job descriptions to assess whether or not they are a fit for their career aspirations and professional development. The best job descriptions go beyond skill requirements, offering a glimpse into firm culture and showcasing benefits that matter to the market’s top talent.

As law firms forge ahead with hiring initiatives, the importance of making your voice shine amidst the noise becomes increasingly important. If you want to turn the heads of the right people from the get-go and avoid a ‘square peg in a round hole’ scenario with regard to your hiring efforts, then your job descriptions must be compelling, engaging and effective enough to attract the market’s top talent. Find out more about how to craft a winning job description here.

Harness the Potential of Social Media:

The traditionally conservative legal industry may find it challenging to fully embrace the power of social media. The time and resources required for maintaining an active and engaging social media presence can be overwhelming for firms, leading to a lapse in this resolution, however, love it or loathe it – the fact remains that legal professionals will research the whole digital footprint of a firm as part of their decision-making process.

If you have the core channels set up and active, it’s always worth a holistic review of things like your bio information, and your wider content strategy. What kind of things do you communicate? Do you share information that gives visitors to those platforms a good idea of your working environment and culture? Is it obvious how you celebrate success? Can you utilise the voice of your existing employees to focus on things like career development?  A social media strategy is usually easy to flex and improve as and when you need to, so if that review wasn’t part of your new-year resolution, it’s always worth finding the time to conduct your due-diligence and ensure that your channels are working as hard as they can to put your best foot forward to those in the active talent pools.

Invest in Training and Upskilling:

Despite recognising the importance of investing in staff development, law firms may face budget constraints or a lack of suitable training programs. This can hinder the execution of the resolution to upskill existing staff – something that will no doubt be on the agendas of businesses up and down the country as the much-documented skills shortage becomes a harsh reality.

Similarly, what legal professionals look for in an employer has changed significantly since the pandemic and the value of career fulfillment has become a staple part of the modern legal professional’s priorities when searching for the ideal employer.

The notion of the one-employer-career has changed dramatically in recent years, and it’s not at all uncommon for legal professionals to be left with a lingering sense of stagnation after spending a few years building their skills in their current role, and consequently view the option of jumping ship as the only way to experience real progress in their career.

The resulting high turnover rate is what has brought the idea of Employee Development Plans into focus for law firms, with an aim to ensure ongoing employability through improving the individual’s workplace soft and hard skills, and industry knowledge. A good plan will strive to create a series of actions designed to help the individual develop and grow within the context of their legal career, while also developing their capabilities and meeting the needs of the employer.

Build and Maintain Brand Image:

Building and maintaining a strong brand image demands consistent effort and resources. Law firms may find it challenging to allocate sufficient time and funds to enhance their brand, especially when immediate client needs take precedence.

Candidates believe in what they can see now more than ever, and in an age where information is easily accessible online, maintaining a strong brand and a good reputation is essential for attracting and retaining top legal talent. Prospective candidates will research a firm as much as the firm will investigate the candidates’ qualifications and qualities and should your credibility fall short as an employer you can be filtered out of shortlists before a CV or profile is even read.

A proactive approach is therefore essential in order to positively influence one’s brand and reputation in the market, whether that be by building a workforce that acts as ambassadors that champion the business values, or convincingly demonstrating that your business does indeed walk the walk when it comes to employee satisfaction. Click here to find out more about how you can tap into the potential your employer brand carries and catalyse its growth.

Consider How Flexible You Can Afford to Be:

One might say that the hybrid working drum has been beaten to death ever since its meteoric rise in popularity among legal candidates during the pandemic. It’s hardly a secret to anyone keeping a close eye on the state of play across the industry over the last few years, and most if not all firms competing for the best talent available on the market will be well aware of just how highly sought after flexibility is by the talent pool in their current market.

And yet, this topic of flexibility remains a sticking point with some employers today, and as a result a barrier to rather than a buttress for hiring success. While that is in part due to expected challenges in marrying candidate and business demands, it is also due to the general rigidity legal employers are known to have towards changes to traditional modus operandi in general. When competition for talent is fiercer than ever before, can your firm afford to be flexible when it comes to working arrangements?

Ultimately, the crux of your success in your hiring efforts will come down to how well you can provide the best employee experience better than your competitors (and back it up). If it is indeed a viable option for your business then it should absolutely be part of your recruitment – and retention – strategy.  We take a deeper look at this and much more here.

In Conclusion:

With almost 11 months left of the year, arguably it is still all to play for when it comes to adherence to your annual business objectives. If however, the roadmap to growth has already hit some bumps in the road, especially when it comes to talent attraction, utilising the services of legal recruitment specialists will undoubtedly get those plans back on track with renewed insight about current market conditions and the movement of talent within your region and/or practice area.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

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The 4-Day Work Week: The Future of Work or A Work in Progress?

The concept of having a shorter workweek isn’t a new one by any means. Industries have long since recognised the benefits it can provide for employees and their business, with the (then-revolutionary) idea of a 5-day work week first being introduced in 1926 by American businessman Henry Ford (as well as the two-day weekend) during a time when, in the midst of the industrial revolution, it was the norm for those in Britain to work 6 long days.

With a 5-day work week in place, employers recognised its massive success in increasing employee wellbeing & productivity, and addressing concerns like absenteeism. The shorter workweek then, as we know, went on to become a part of everyday working life for people worldwide.

But since then, despite much talk of this trend bringing another transformation of the structure of the current working week, it has remained unchanged for over a century.

Until recently, that is.

On Trial – The 4-day Week

The idea of a 4-day, or 32-hour work week had begun to garner mainstream attention in the last few years, with six countries (Canada, Australia, Ireland, the UK, New Zealand and the US), already experimenting with it over the past year. In June 2022 we saw the introduction of the first UK 4-day workweek trial, (piloted by organisations 4-Day Week Global and Autonomy) in which 61 companies and 2,900 workers participated, which sought to achieve the same results as the current working week structure and find a better common ground between employers and employees.

And with the results of the trial having been published in February 2023, we now have a glimpse into how it could work across a variety of sectors in what has been heralded by and large as a resounding success.

One of the biggest selling points of the 4-day week notion to employers is the increase in productivity that workers experience. Contrary to how counterintuitive it can appear at first, research from a study conducted by the University of Auckland has shown that a shorter workweek can give rise to greater levels of productivity from employees compared to a standard 5-day workweek. The study involved a New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, which trialled a four-day workweek for two months and during the trial, employees reported feeling less stressed and more focused, which led to an increase in their productivity levels.

Similarly, in the pilot, many employees reported improved work-life balance, reduced stress levels, and better overall well-being, with 60% of workers finding it easier to combine their work with caring responsibilities and 62% better able to juggle work with their social life. And it’s showing very encouraging signs business-wise as well, as key metrics show that companies’ revenue, by and large, hadn’t changed over the trial period, but instead showed a healthy increase (35% on average) compared to data from similar reports in previous years. The number of resignations in participating companies also saw a significant decline (57%), highlighting the true value of the benefits that the 4-day workweek structure provided to employees.

The most persuasive statistic of all when considering the longevity and permanency of such a working arrangement is that 92% of companies (56) that participated decided to continue with the model, (with 18 of them making it permanent). It certainly seems to offer a new perspective for employers and employees to find common ground when attempting to strike that delicate balance between increasing productivity & sales whilst also creating a more supportive work environment.

Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, Dr. David Frayne, attested to its effectiveness:

“We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into a realistic policy, with multiple benefits. We think there is a lot here that ought to motivate other companies and industries to give it a try”.

What Still Remains Unanswered?

But which questions do the results still not answer? And what are the implications for the working world at large should this become a new reality?

Perhaps the first thing that springs to mind when looking at all the positive discourse regarding the results of the trial is, “can it deliver on the promise it’s showing”? While it’s certainly no pipedream to believe it can, considering the trial’s outstanding results, it does highlight a need for a touch of pragmatism when assessing the 4-day workweek’s feasibility and in particular for sectors where it has proven difficult to implement or has just not been successful when doing so.

Take customer-facing businesses for example.

Unlike other professional services that often involve project-type work (which gives employees a greater degree of flexibility when it comes to deadlines), companies in this line of work must have a certain number of staff on-site to take care of the more hands-on aspects of the role and ensure a smooth running of the business.

Naturally, there are bound to be scheduling challenges that arise because of this when implementing the model as customer needs must still be managed effectively, and the business must ensure that communication between teams and with customers is maintained at all times, meaning the idea of a three-day weekend every week for some companies is just not feasible. Certain sectors such as education, healthcare or public transport may argue that this is just not feasible at all.

And even if staffing and logistics issues could be overcome within these sectors, not all can guarantee a productivity increase (and money on the bottom line) to make up for the reduced hours of a 32-hour workweek particularly as such businesses or public services will have to take on extra staff to cover any shortfalls, meaning extra costs overall.

One such company that ran into several of these practical issues when implementing it across their business is Engineering and Industrial supplies company Allcap. Despite reducing the frequency of their staff’s three-day weekend to once every fortnight (due to the nature of their business), they found adapting to the 4-day workweek model difficult, particularly with the increase in daily workload. Employees found it difficult to benefit from the extra day of rest that they had available, as their new week structure now meant that they had gone from ‘’10 normal working days to 9 intense ones’’, making them exhausted by the end of their week. Added to this was the difficulty in finding enough staff to cover for the absences of employees on their free day when holidays, sickness and caring responsibilities were all factored in. Ultimately, and with two months of the trial still planned in, Allcap was forced to abandon across its main trade sites.

Mass Rollout Or Mass Walkout?

As seen from numerous other examples in the trial results, it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach and not all businesses can afford the wiggle room needed to adapt to it, which raises valid concerns about its applicability on a larger scale.

Its scalability isn’t the only question mark about it either, as there is the concern of how sustainable it can be over longer periods of time than just the 6 months, considering the unknown long-term impact of a 4-day workweek’s intense work pattern on the physical and mental well-being of employees.

Could the exact reasons for pushing ahead with the pilot around staff wellbeing lead to a worsened state in the long run? It does very much depend on the sector, the type of work being conducted, and the expectations of the customer base – and on that basis it is harder to see how this could be rolled out en masse irrespective of these nuances.

So what next for the trial? And where does all this leave us with regard to the current state of affairs?

Post pandemic, it is clear that there is a growing focus on greater flexibility from employees who are more mindful of when, where, and how they work. In turn, there has been much narrative from businesses around hybrid, flexi, remote-working and analysis of these changes on the impact on business performance and productivity.

Undoubtedly, there has already been a seismic shift in working patterns as numerous companies move to more flexible means of working, but is a further shift to a shorter week on top of this a step too far – at the moment at least?

“Even as the value of the pound goes up and down, the value of people’s time doesn’t.”

Summed up nicely by the above quote from Programme Manager Alex Soojung-Kim Pang at 4-Day Week Global, perhaps the biggest litmus test for the 4-day model, and currently its biggest barrier to a much-anticipated systematic change, is how well it can fare in not just the current economic climate, but an ever-changing one.

With vacancies harder to fill, and potentially more staff on the books (for some sectors) to accommodate a 4-day workweek, it simply isn’t an option at the moment for some, and whether it can still be as viable and as practical in unfavourable conditions remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure, change won’t happen overnight.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from Partners to Legal Executives, Solicitors to Paralegals and Legal IT personnel to Practice Managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

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Posted By

Joel Okoye

Digital Marketing Apprentice

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The Future Of Work Is… Flexibility

  • February 19, 2023

The world of work is still undergoing seismic changes – in part due to the long-tail impact of the 2020/21 pandemic, as well as in response to more recent influences like the economic crisis in the UK and overseas. Legacy business practices have been put to the test, and whilst digital transformation has continued to accelerate at breakneck speed, some businesses are only now stopping to catch their breath and take stock.

One topic that continues to make headlines globally however is around ‘flexibility’ – still the most requested ‘benefit’ by job seekers who are rejecting a return to a hustle culture and supposed burnout.

The latest Work Trend Index Report by Microsoft, published late last year spotlights the topic, and claims that even though we are now many months into hybrid work, not everyone agrees on how it’s going. And whilst employees are (on the whole) embracing greater flexibility and the benefits that come with that, business leaders are having to find the balance between remaining competitive as an employer, with rising inflation, budgetary constraints, and a dispersed workforce.

Will we see a mass return to the office?

A recent survey by Slack stated that only 12% of people would actively choose to return to an office setting on a full-time basis. Yet, 50% of leaders are ‘demanding’ employees return to the fold – an approach that experts are saying could have serious ramifications for businesses that don’t offer some level of flexibility; instead impacting retention and creating flight risks that companies can ill-afford in the current market.

Nevertheless, global giants at Disney, Tesla, and Goldman Sachs have hit the headlines for vocally turning their back on remote or even hybrid working arrangements – instead insisting employees benefit from face-to-face contact with their peers, especially when it comes to collaboration and creativity.

This post-pandemic push to get people back into the office has also been adopted by other global businesses including Starbucks, Twitter, and KMPG. Yet, the supposed advantages of hybrid working arrangements continue to be analysed and pored over, with indications that this working arrangement can positively impact work-life balance, and productivity, mitigate burnout, and improve personal well-being.

For the time being it seems, there is an increasing mismatch between what employees want, and what employers are prepared to offer.

Is hybrid here to stay?

There is no doubt that the increase in remote, hybrid, and flexible working patterns has necessitated a shift in how companies operate. From having to invest in technology to support a separated workforce to contemplating (and analysing) the subsequent impact on things like collaboration, productivity, staff engagement, and culture. The road, whilst already well-trodden, is still relatively unknown as many still consider the permanency of such working arrangements.

Paul Lewis (CEO of job advertising company, Adzuna) states in a recent article in Forbes, that employers are becoming more polarised in their approach to flexible working. And whilst there is certainly one camp that has reversed any such arrangement at full throttle, others continue to see the benefit of offering flexibility (be that remote or hybrid) as a tactic to attract new (and much-needed) talent.

The hybrid dichotomy

There are evidently both challenges and opportunities of hybrid working that professional services continue to pore over as we enter a new year, not least against a backdrop of talent and skill shortages impacting general recruitment and retention of staff.

According to research by global analytic consultants, Gallup, benefits include more autonomy, less burnout, higher productivity, and a perceived improvement in work-life balance. Yet, the research also highlighted that employees noted hybrid arrangements led to decreased collaboration, access to resources, disruption to processes, and less connection to the business ‘culture’.

It is certainly an ongoing challenge for businesses to balance employee interests against general business performance – remembering as always, the needs of the end customer and if those continue to be met as the workplace continues to evolve.

The most recent Work Trend Index Report by Microsoft highlights research where over 20,000 people in 11 countries were interviewed and analysed alongside labour market trends. The key findings (presented last September), and subsequent recommendations to business leaders were:

‘End productivity paranoia’

  • Whilst managers may be worried about the general productivity of employees, not in the office, 87% reported that they are more productive. This is then backed up with Microsoft 365 data and productivity signals including meeting invites, multi-tasking (sending emails in meetings), and tracked activity.
  • Yet, as some businesses install tracking technology to measure productivity signals themselves, many employees are left feeling like they aren’t being trusted. This can, according to the report, then lead to digital overwhelm where employees feel the need to ‘prove’ they are working…possibly out of normal work hours.

‘Embrace the fact that people come in for other people’

  • Research at this juncture indicates that the desire to return to the office environment, even on a hybrid basis, is down to people missing the social interaction and connection with their peers. Therefore ‘rebuilding social capital can be a powerful lever for bringing people back to the office’.
  • Digital communication tools are as important as ever to allow employees to connect with each other and with the business leaders.

‘Re-recruit your employees’

  • Despite the choppy waters of the economic and political landscape that arguably make job seekers more cautious, employers should still be mindful of staff retention…even if they aren’t actively recruiting or on a growth trajectory themselves.
  • There should therefore be a focus on re-energising and re-engaging existing staff members who according to the research are still ‘turning to job-hopping, the creator economy, side hustles, and entrepreneurship to achieve their career goals’.
  • This includes providing genuine growth and career progression opportunities, training, and development support

Let’s Talk About Flex

In our blog 12 months ago, we looked at definitions of the various flexible working models at the time – centred around what was coined ‘home, hybrid, or hub (office)’. And, whilst these are still as relevant today, the models themselves continue to evolve and adapt – both to the needs and desires of employers and employees and also in relation to external factors and the socio-economic landscape.

Other nuances include:

Flexi

  • the employee has the freedom to pick exactly where and when they work….not limited necessarily to the home or the office

Office-First

  • employee spends the majority of time in the office, and less remotely

Remote-First

  • employee spends the majority of time working remotely, and less in the office

Fixed

  • the employee has a set working pattern for days in the office and days at home/remotely

Compressed

  • depending on the needs of the business this may include full-time hours worked across a shorter amount of days e.g nine longer days instead of ten – giving employees flexibility without losing capacity

Annualised Hours

  • the employee has to work an agreed amount of time over the year, but (aside from core hours) has flexibility around when they work based on extra demand

Four-Day Forecast

As well as the ongoing rumblings around flexi-, hybrid-, agile-, and remote-working, there is also a renewed focus on the ‘4-day week’ – not least because of the pilot programme that launched in the UK last year, which has just published its initial results (based on data from US, Australian, and Irish businesses in the first phase of the trial).

The programme, the brainchild of the not-for-profit ‘4 Day Week Global’ founded by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, advocates investment in the transition to reducing working hours; a ‘business improvement strategy centred on working smarter rather than longer’, and investing in the wellbeing of a business’s employees. Notably, the trial is based on a so-called ‘100-80-100 model’ = ‘100% of the pay, 80% of the time, but critically in exchange for 100% of the productivity’.

The notion of a shorter week had already been gaining traction in recent years, and as the pandemic forced through many changes in the workplace, a more formal approach was taken in 2022 with the world’s first coordinated trial and large-scale independent research into the impacts of a 4 day week.

The results, published last November, hail the pilot a resounding success on nearly all fronts with participating businesses reporting increased revenue, reduced absenteeism and resignations as well as a general increase in staff engagement and satisfaction in their roles. None of the businesses who took part in the trial will return to a 5-day week.

With pilots now taking place across the globe including the UK, South Africa, and Canada, it certainly seems many businesses are at least open to the idea of a seismic shift to the working week as we know it – but only, of course, if the numbers stack up.

In Conclusion

The pandemic of 2020/21 certainly accelerated substantial changes to working patterns and behaviours – shaking up when, where, and how individuals operated. It seems that in this sense, we are still in somewhat of a state of flux as businesses contend with economic instability, rising costs, declining staff retention, and a skills shortage impacting recruitment.

Yet the cards, arguably, are still being held by employees who remain resolute that flexibility (in whatever form) is a leading factor in decisions around if they stay, or if they go (and indeed, where they go next).

It is certainly true that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for employers as they continue to navigate these choppy waters, yet the narrative (at the moment at least) certainly predicts that flexibility isn’t a fad…rather, it’s the future.

 

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

 

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