Best Employers 2017: Impatient employees challenge firms to improve diversity and inclusion


Diversity and inclusion might be at the top of many law firms’ agendas, but lawyers are increasingly dissatisfied with the progress being made, according to Legal Week Intelligence’s Best Employers Report 2017.

BER-2017_professional_400x300Satisfaction with diversity levels fell for a second year, scoring 3.5 out of 5, down from 3.7 in 2016 and 3.8 in 2015. Meanwhile, the importance fee earners place on diversity climbed to 3.9 from 3.7 a year ago, suggesting that despite all the efforts firms are making to be more inclusive – from internal support groups to more targeted recruitment practices – more work needs to be done.

Scott-Sasha_InclusiveGroup“The reality is there is a lot of good practice around this but we still need better numbers,” says Sasha Scott (pictured right), director at Inclusive Group, a consultancy that helps firms tackle unconscious bias and other diversity issues.

Part of the issue, according to Scott and others, is that there is a five- to 10-year lag between putting diversity policies in place and seeing actual results. Many firms have adopted gender targets to increase their number of female partners to 30% during the next few years – but even then it means that seven out of every 10 partners will still be male.

There are multiple factors that are spurring firms to pursue a more diverse workforce.

“For me it’s the right thing to do for strong moral reasons, but it’s also for good business reasons,” says Ray Berg (pictured right), UK managing partner at Osborne Clarke. “The more diverse you are the more creative and innovative you are, and that’s increasingly also what our clients and our people expect.”

Frequent feedback Despite the perennial dissatisfaction with salary and bonuses relative to expectations, the category fee earners deem the most important is feeling valued by their employer, scoring it 4.6 out of 5 – 0.8 points higher than their level of satisfaction.

Some firms are trying to address this by implementing instant recognition schemes that reward staff on the spot for good performance, with gifts such as bottles of wine or shopping vouchers.

Paul Robinson“It’s about making sure we have a climate of appreciation and thanks – law firms are not the number one places where you naturally get that appreciation, it almost becomes expected that people put in the hours and the effort, so recognition on a regular basis can make a greater difference than an annual recognition through a bonus scheme,” says Paul Robinson (pictured right), director of human resources at Trowers & Hamlins.

Other firms are encouraging more frequent feedback as a way to make employees feel valued.

BER-2017_personal_400x300“People crave feedback,” says Robert Halton, chief people officer at Burges Salmon. “Don’t wait until the annual review, give it in the moment – that’s really important, because there is a generation that expects feedback and there’s a generation above them that doesn’t have the same expectations.”

Strategic involvement Engaging staff in the strategic direction of the firm – the satisfaction with which fell to 3.8 this year from 3.9 in 2016 – is also key to making staff feel they are striving towards the same goals.

Hadland-Louise“We relaunched our strategy last year and we had a series of roadshows across the country where we took every member of staff to a hotel for a three-and-a-half hour session on strategy, so they’re involved in the process and they can clearly see how they are impacted,” says Louise Hadland (pictured right), HR director at Shoosmiths.

Agile working Some firms are radically shaking up the way they operate, by introducing agile working practices and open-plan offices. Fee earners placed an increased amount of importance on the support services and facilities available in their office, scoring it 4.2 out of 5, up from 3.8 last year – the biggest jump in expectations out of any category.

“People spend a lot of time in the office, so you need to make that environment as pleasant as you can,” says Kate Richardson Moore, global head of talent and engagement at Linklaters.

Tom Hellier, an HR consultant at Willis Towers Watson, says the trend towards more agile working is being driven by a younger generation who want and expect more flexibility around where and how they work.

“What we’re tending to see with larger companies in more metropolitan areas is much more of a gravitation towards flexible working arrangements and environments, facilitated by things like hot desking; so taking away fixed desks and going in with the expectation that an office will only ever be at a certain percentage of its capacity and people will work from home,” he says.

Career progression BER-2017_career_400x300Despite efforts to increase transparency around career progression, fee earners complained there remains a lack of openness, which can create a perception that promotion opportunities are not available to all. Satisfaction levels fell 0.1 point to 3.3 out of 5 – 0.9 points lower than they rank the openness of communication around career development in importance.

Some firms are already making strides in this area by establishing detailed frameworks that better outline the routes to promotion.

“Historically, what we had was a progression criteria where people could see what they were measured against, but didn’t know how to get there. What we’ve got now is a structure so they can actually see what development they need to go through and what they need to be demonstrating to reach those career levels within the firm,” says Ken Bryant (pictured right), head of human resources at Ashfords.

One area where fee earners were more satisfied this year was with the skills training and development being offered by their firms, ranking it 4 out of 5, up from 3.9 last year.

Michelmores, for instance, has recently launched a mentoring scheme to help develop its rising stars.

“Our aim is to ensure that everyone across Michelmores has the necessary skills to deliver the very best results in their role, and that we organise learning and any career development support needed in a slick and effective way,” says Colette Stevens (pictured right), the firm’s HR director.

And fee earners were also more satisfied with levels of cooperation and teamwork. That will vindicate firms that have ditched individual performance targets in favour of recognising efforts that benefit the wider business.

Legal Week Intelligence’s Best Employers Report 2017 canvasses the views of 4,000+ fee-earners in the UK and abroad on satisfaction with their law firms. The survey, now in its 14th year, asks staff to rate importance and satisfaction on a scale of 1 (not satisfied or not important) to 5 (very satisfied or very important) on 30 different aspects of employment – organised into professional, personal, management, career & development and reward. The firms that perform best are awarded the accreditation of ‘Best Employer 2017’. For more information, visit the Best Employers content hub or email Lara Rosenthal at