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How small firms can attract the best talent

How small firms can attract the best talent


Jon Gilbert outlines the ways small firms can make their offer as attractive as possible by meeting the needs of millennials

Attracting talented individuals to your firm, whether it’s straight out of university or from another legal firm, can be very competitive. There are a lot of good legal professionals out there and every firm wants the best possible talent working for them.

Therefore, it is extremely important that a firm makes a good offer to prospective staff, and is able to convey why this is the offer to accept. In many ways, I think smaller firms are much better placed to be able to do this than larger firms.

In an article for Solicitors Journal in October 2016, Paul Stothard said the following: ‘The millennial generation… expect rapid progression, a varied and interesting career, and constant feedback. This ambition… – not to mention their high propensity to move on if ambitions are not realised – requires a properly thought-through strategic response from law firms.’

These views are also reflected in the results of the latest Legal Week Intelligence Best Employers Report, released in September 2016. Respondents, who were from a mix of UK, City, and international firms, were asked to rate multiple aspects of their professional working lives, both in importance and satisfaction. It has to be said that young legal professional place a great deal of emphasis on the qualitative, un-quantifiable aspects of working at a legal firm, with being valued by the firm (94 per cent), prospects for career development (92 per cent), and quality of work handled by the firm (92 per cent) all scoring highly for importance, with 92 per cent also citing salary.

It should be said though that satisfaction levels for all of these aspects were lower, some markedly so. For example, while 92 per cent of respondents considered prospects for career development to be important, only 74 per cent were satisfied with the career development prospects where they worked. Similarly, 86 per cent considered communication to be important, but only 68 per cent were satisfied with this at their place of work.

These are two ways in which working at a small firm can be better than working at a medium to large-sized firm. For example, in my experience, working at a smaller firm leads to increased opportunities for new hires: there are more opportunities to shadow a partner in court, for example, and more opportunities to take on the additional responsibilities that will demonstrate why they should receive the progression they crave. This, in turn, should also help to make them feel more engaged and lead to increased job satisfaction for them.

Working at a smaller firm should also mean there are fewer layers of management. This makes it more likely that new hires will have a relationship with people at all levels of the firm, therefore making communication between the top and bottom of a firm easier. To this point, knowing that the managing partner is aware of you can be a big motivating factor for some. This combined with the increased opportunities that come with working in a smaller firm detailed above can give them the incentive to push on.

This bears out, as an increased level of staff happiness between those in small compared to large firms is reflected in differences in staff retention rates. In a survey commissioned by the Institute of Legal Finance and Management (ILFM) last year, 89 per cent of accounts staff in small legal firms still worked for the same employer as the previous year compared to 81 per cent of their counterparts in large firms.

Finally, in his article, Paul Stothard highlights that young talent now expect to have an ‘adult-to-adult’ relationship with management rather than the more paternalistic and autocratic approaches that can dominate in some firms. Ultimately, this is to do with being treated with respect and being made to feel like a valued member of the team, and is part of company culture. Again, it is much easier to change the management-staff dynamic in a smaller firm as there are fewer people and fewer layers of management that have to buy in and implement it.

Therefore, it is important small firms begin to highlight to interviewees the increased opportunities and better chances for progression that come with working for a smaller firm. While the bigger firms may be able to offer a better initial salary and the prestige of working for an established name, the employees’ day-to-day life at a smaller firm is happier and more satisfying, and it seems that it is increasingly these qualitative factors that candidates care about now.


Jon Gilbert is a partner and family law specialist at the Barnet-based legal firm MHHP Law