SkillsScorecard Blog

Clients choose well-managed firms – and HR matters

Ray D’Cruz:

According to a recent report, 54% of clients say it is an essential pre-condition for selection that their advisors be well-managed. To put that another way, more than half of the clients surveyed will not instruct a firm they consider poorly managed.

That’s the first revelation that hits you between the eyes are you read the Effective Client-Adviser Relationships Report 2012, produced jointly by Managing Partner Forum, Meridian West and the Financial Times.

The report, which is freely available, provides a number of other significant insights into the dynamic professional services sector that range from management priorities to commercial awareness to adding value to training and knowledge management. In an overall sense, the report will make the reader question the long-held division in management authority between the partners and management. How sustainable and sensible is this in the eyes of clients?

From our perspective, the report provides some very relevant information for firms considering the business case for Performance & Planning Systems (PPS) and Learning Management Systems (LMS).

Particular points worth noting from the extended report (there’s also an Executive Summary available) include:

  • When identifying management priorities, the most significant gap in perceptions about priorities relates to investing in technology and systems: 44% of clients consider this to be important while only 18% of managing partners consider it important.
  • Clients want commerciality. Firms seem to know this with 87% of firms saying they need to develop a more commercial skill-set in addition to their technical competencies. Surprisingly though, only 36% of advisers receive training on business and commercial issues. And 32%, receive no training in client service, business or commercial, project management, sales and pitches, financial analysis etc.
  • One quarter of firms are not assessing non-technical competencies in performance reviews. Given the stated importance of these areas by clients, and the likelihood that all are conducting reviews, that’s a concern.
  • For Asia-Pacific firms, some clear differences emerge: attracting and retaining talent and training best practice are uniquely strong priorities in this region, probably underlining the strong economic performance the Asia-Pac region relative to Europe and North America.
  • Asia-Pacific firms say that appraisal and reward systems are not adequately linked to commercial, non-technical skills.

These are some of the relevant insights for our clients from the report. What it means for HR and Learning could be the subject a more detailed discussion, but the report would appear to have the following implications, at least:

  1. Clients want to know that firms are properly managed (including in the areas of training and performance) so HR having a seat at the management table is a non-negotiatable.
  2. HR processes need to reflect the commercial skills and mind-set required of advisers – so a strategic competency framework that properly distills these skills and then flows through all HR processes, from learning to performance review to remuneration is essential.
  3. L&D managers need to increase the focus on commercial skills, including client service, business or commercial, project management, sales and pitches, financial analysis capabilities.
  4. Clients expect firms to invest in systems that underpin these business processes. Firm leaders may not understand this – there is a significant perception gap on this issue that BD and HR need to bridge. This report may help!
  5. Given the importance of both appraisals and learning, the business case for a PPS and LMS is a strong because it’s coming from clients.

Find out more about Managing Partner Forum and how your firm can join this peak organisation for professional services.

HR infrastructure challenges for growth firms

Small or boutique firms in strong growth phases face some infrastructure questions.

Specifically, at what point will they need to invest in finance, HR, BD and operational systems and processes?

There are some investments, such as practice management and billing systems that have to start with the first practitioner.

But there are others, like some HR systems, that must wait.

From our point of view, with a focus on performance and learning systems, we think the transition point is when firms hit 50-100 people (in total, not just lawyers).

At this point, a few things have taken place:

  • The charism of the founding partner or partners are stretched to the point where serious delegation of management responsibility has taken place
  • There will be a few relatively senior professional managers in place whose role it is to develop and implement new systems and processes
  • Practice groups have developed some real identity, with the resultant challenge of ensuring seamless client experiences across those groups
  • People are subjected to a wider range of management (and mismanagement) capabilities, resulting in the need for greater consistency
  • Professional staff have increased expectations about what the firm can do for them in terms of career development and learning opportunities
  • Firm turnover is permitting medium and long-term investment in resources that will ultimately lead to greater profitability

Importantly, it’s also the point at which the firm can afford professional HR support. Therefore it’s the point at which firms focus on issues like employer brand.

A typical approach to building HR infrastructure in these relatively lean firms will usually start with a competency framework (or role profiles) that reflect the firm’s strategy and culture. From there HR processes such as performance management, learning, recruitment and remuneration can be aligned.

CLEAA Good Learning Forum

January 19, 2011 - Law Firm Competencies


The 2010 CLEAA Conference featured a Good Learning Forum – a panel and audience discussion about what constitutes good learning, some of the current challenges and problems and ways of progressing learning for lawyers and law firms. (CLEAA is the Continuing Legal Education Association of Australasia)

The discussion, facilitated by Ben Richards from Aticus, brought together a diverse panel including Noela L’Estrange (CEO Queensland Law Society), Ramona Saligari, (L&D Manager Maddocks), Fergus Green (Solicitor, Allens Arthur Robinson), Steve Mark (NSW Legal Services Commissioner), Phil Greenwood (SC, NSW Bar) and others.

Some of the issues address include:

  • Giving lawyers clarity about purpose of learning and desired competence
  • Helping lawyers understand how they learn and what they need to learn
  • Engaging and inspiring the audience through different learning formats (e.g. lessons learned, case studies)
  • The role of leadership in establishing learning cultures
  • Diversifying the methods of learning delivery

It’s a fascinating discussion that will resonate with many professional development or L&D people. Click on the image above or  here to view.

Reviewing legal education in the United Kingdom

January 7, 2011 - Law Firm Competencies

Significant moves are underway to review legal education in the United Kingdom.

The Chairman of the Legal Services Board has expressed an intention to undertake a broad ranging review in conjunction with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards, to assess current arrangements against the skills and competencies needed for the workplace of the future.

In a series of engaging podcasts, Charon QC, interviews, in his inimitable style, a range of people involved in the legal education in the UK.

The issues raised in these podcasts will be familiar to many readers from jurisdictions that have examined legal education recently: is the law degree relevant and useful for the modern legal services market – is it fit for purpose? What is the relationship between academia and professional practice? How is the law taught and could it be taught more effectively?

For law firms, the implications are clear: what competencies will new lawyers have at the start of their legal life, and what competencies will need to be developed as they progress through the different phases of their career?

Podcasts in Charon QC’s podcast series include:

Interview with Professor Moorhead on the state of UK legal education

Interview with Nigel Savage, CEO of The College of Law on reform of legal education

Interview on the reform of legal education with Scott Slorach, College of Law

Interview with Professor Gary Slapper on the reform of legal education

Skills in focus for Australian firms

Lawyers Weekly reports that Australian firms are now facing a skills shortage, as a strong economy ensures increasing talent challenges for in-house teams and private practices.

The Lawyers Weekly article is based on the October-December Hays Quarterly Report into the Australian legal employment sector. The Hays Quarterly Report states:

The most significant private practice trend has been a shift in the approach to salaries. More firms are introducing incentive schemes to reward high performers, and are becoming more competitive without over-committing base salaries. Many firms have introduced stronger L&D programmes and are recognising key talent by promoting their strong performers.

Incentive schemes to reward high performance, stronger L&D and recognition and promotion of strong performers are all key elements of an effective approach to performance management.

And October, being 6 months away from most annual review processes, is the perfect time for Australian firms to plan a better approach to performance management. That’s plenty of time to update competencies and a new approach to performance management.

For more information, contact SkillsScoreacard at or by calling +61 3 9016 3755.

And if you happen to be attending the  2010 ALPMA Summit in Sydney, come visit us at booth 14 in the exhibition hall.

The one-page, competency-based role profile

May 21, 2010 - Law Firm Competencies

Ray D’Cruz writes

I’ve seen a lot of competency profiles in my time. And I’ve developed competency profiles for a range of local, regional and international law firms.

Time and time again, the day-to-day use of the profiles can be drawn down to one factor: brevity.

Brief profiles, and by brief I mean one-page or two-page profiles, are easy to read and understand. Sure they are loaded with meanings that warrant further exploration and discussion, but in many cases these are implications and nuances that only L&D and HR are seriously concerned about.

Brevity means a few other things:

  • The confidence that you’ve nailed the essence of the role, and can therefore describe it briefly
  • The knowledge that you will be able to integrate content into other HR systems like performance management, career planning etc without creating monstrous and odious processes that no one wants to go near
  • The assurance that end-users will not pick up lengthy and weighty documents and put them down just as quickly for fear of not having enough time to read them or not speaking the language of competencies

Let the more detailed nuances be drawn out in learning objectives for specific L&D programs, or career planning tools that drill down based on people’s interests and needs. If an individual wants more detail, make it available, but integrating it into specific programs or planning tools effectively means that detail can be on-demand, while life can be made simple for everyone else.