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Talent Leaders: One of Today’s Afterthoughts, Will Prove to Be Among Tomorrow’s Heroes

In an ALM article, Calibrate founder and CEO Jennifer Johnson and Managing Director of Talent Management Consulting Haley Revel spoke to the urgent need for law firm leaders to view their talent as drivers of success and furthermore prioritize and optimize their overarching Talent and HR strategies.

Law firms have historically put the lion’s share of their financial resources and efforts towards ensuring they have the ‘best’ legal talent to meet or exceed client expectations. For most firms, only scant attention and limited resources have been devoted to having the critical behind-the-scenes human and other assets in place to make the firm hum. These valuable assets ensure that the mail comes in and goes out; client invoices are prepared, sent, and collected; vendors are paid; documents are edited and distributed; employees are thriving and staying; and clients are received at reception with a smile. These touchpoints are vital to a firm’s success.  

Firm leadership must think about their talent (and that means ALL their talent) differently than they do today: as a core business asset whose managed value can make or break the firm’s success.

When business and strategic plans fail to consider these core business assets, they continue to be perceived as subordinate and supportive rather than stabilizers and growth drivers for a firm’s success. 

During 2021, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, turnover at Am Law 100 firms rose from its historic 16% rate to an astonishing 27%.  Law firm leaders, worried about “The Great Resignation,” exhorted their HR and recruiting teams to find new ways to retain and attract top talent. As firms competed to entice scarce talent, they increased starting salaries drastically over pre-pandemic ranges and offered unprecedented signing bonuses. At the same time, they attempted to retain top talent by responding with tactical measures, for example, minor tweaks to compensation and benefits, retention bonuses, diversity, and well-being programs, and resorted to internal mantras about their culture being a selling point.  

While these retention measures can lead to immediate results, firms must invest in the long-term growth and success of their partners, associates and business professional talent.

By implementing a comprehensive, multi-pronged Talent strategy, firms can nurture their value proposition to ensure it is not perceived as a mantra of insincerity.

The best and brightest talent, the ones with the most mobility, will embrace “quiet quitting” while in search of a firm or other organization that values their people and invests in them. 

This issue is not limited to the legal industry – in fact, it is a global business challenge affecting other industries and one that we can look at and learn from. In the Gallup Organization’s book, Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It, Jon Clifton pinpoints the problem: leaders continue to measure success using traditional performance indicators, while missing the fact that their citizens’ happiness and well-being continue to decline.  

What’s the solution?

A fundamental re-imagining of the law firm business model that sees the full organization and prioritizes the Talent and HR function for the value it brings to the firm.

We are not talking about optimizing the nuts and bolts of HR operations. Rather, firms should recognize their talent as an essential asset and the health of their talent pool should be viewed as a key business driver and strategic platform with metrics that are taken just as seriously as traditional financial KPIs. For that to actualize, leaders of the Talent function must be positioned to play a leading role in decision-making.

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