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Trends in Workplace Engagement – Law Firms

Over the last year, we have worked with over 30 law firms of various sizes and practice areas, and surveyed a total of 8,738 Partners, Associates, Paralegals and Back Office Staff. It is a testament to the engagement strategies developed by legal HR and Communications Departments to see that 63% of these firms gained a Best Companies Star Accreditation status, and that nearly one third ranked in The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For 2019 list.

Workplace engagement has become more than just a buzzword in the boardroom; it is now a serious consideration as companies across the UK compete for the best talent, whilst maintaining a productive and engaged workforce.  The legal sector remains an attractive prospect for individuals starting their careers, and it is imperative that law firms maintain a reputation for being engaged workplaces in order to have a sustainable future.

Having collected data from Partners, Associates, Paralegals and Back Office staff, we are able to analyse the key trends and drivers of workplace engagement within the legal sector, and showcase the best practice that the highest-scoring firms demonstrate.

"This year we focused on our corporate responsibility obligations and giving back to the local community. We gave all our staff up to three days paid leave to undertake charitable work for local charities which has been really popular. The Firm also adopted 'Time to Change' which is a mental health initiative where our staff volunteer to become Employee Champions and Mental Health First Aiders who can provide guidance on supporting those with mental health challenges."

 - Nockolds Solicitors, Best Companies 3* Accreditation Award 2019

View Nockolds Solicitors' full engagement profile here

Key Trends of Law Firm Engagement

Sometimes, it can be difficult to get employees to participate in any form of survey. However the average response rate from law firms last year was 74%. This is an excellent achievement, and highlights how important employees feel it is to have their say about engagement at work.

This year, law firms achieved on average a Best Companies Index (BCI) score of 679.7/1000. This would result in a 1* Best Companies Accreditation, suggesting that law firms on average have achieved ‘Very Good’ levels of engagement.

The below graph shoes how Law Firm BCI Scores have trended over the past five years in comparison to those of all private companies we have surveyed.

Graph showing Law Firm engagement scores vs average private companies from 2015-2019

There has been a minor decreasing trend for both Law firms and private companies, however Law Firms are declining more steeply than private companies. Though each of these Law Firm BCI scores would be awarded a Best Companies 1* Accreditation, it is a little concerning that the trend is more pronounced in comparison to other private companies.

Key Drivers of Law Firm Engagement

So what has driven the results for this year? As the nature of the workplace changes, so too does the criteria through which employees seek a meaningful occupation. Work-life balance is a key determinate across all sectors for an engaged workforce, and law firms are no exception to this. However, our analyses suggests that employees within law firms feel there are other factors that are just as important as Wellbeing.

We utilised our legal sector data to examine the relationships between overall workplace engagement and our 8 factor model. To identify the most important factors to this sector, we ranked the eight factors in order of the strength of their relationship with overall engagement. All eight factors demonstrated a strong positive relationship with engagement. The three strongest relationships for law firms were; My Company, Leadership and My Manager.

Correlation between Workplace Engagement & Survey Statements – Law Firms

Correlational analyses were used to examine the relationship between the 70 items from the b-Heard survey and workplace engagement. The below table displays the statements which have the strongest relationships with overall engagement.

Table showing the most correlated statements with engagement in law firms. The statement 'I love working for this organisation' is the most engaging stateemnt

The fifteen statements here are colour-coded according to category – those in red are associated with organisational clarity, and those in grey are directly related to managerial engagement.

Some of the statements which explore the underlying attitudes towards a company are how proud respondents are to work for the organisation, how much they love to work for the organisation and whether they would leave tomorrow if they were offered another job. Unsurprisingly, these three statements have the strongest relationship with overall engagement.

The remaining statements in the above table relate to the My Manager and Leadership factors. This suggests when employees feel positively towards their managers and their leadership team, then their engagement scores will also likely increase.

Best Practice – Ideas from the Most Engaged Firms

Now that we have identified what matters most to law firm workers, we can examine where law firms might be able to make improvements to increase their engagement levels, and subsequently their productivity and recruitment activity.

The best practice below is trending across those firms who achieved a 3* Accreditation from Best Companies in 2019, and relates to the most correlated factors associated with law firms (My Company, My Manager, Leadership and Personal Growth). Additionally, you will find the average year-on-year scores for the top performing organisations for key statements from each of these areas of best practice. These have been compared to the average for law firms overall. [1]

Those firms that achieved a 3* Accreditation in 2019 include Mills & Reeve, Kingsley Napley, JMW Solicitors and Nockolds Solicitors (click the firms’ names to view their full engagement profiles.)

Management Confidence (My Manager)

Managerial excellence is crucial to the success of any company, and the most engaged firms ensure they invest in managerial development to get the best out of their management pool. These firms offer clear development programmes for managers, and ensure that direct reports have the opportunity to feedback on their manager’s merits and areas for improvement.

As a result, employees in these firms feel supported by management, but also confident that their managers are informative, capable, and able to help them achieve their full potential.

Statement All Law Firms* Top-Scoring Firms*
I have confidence in the leadership skills of my manager 74.7 81.6
My manager helps me to fulfil my potential 68.2 74.7

*% of Maximum Score

Interaction/Communication (My Company)

The top firms ensure firm-wide communications are regularly sent that reinforce the values of the company, and update staff to ensure they understand strategic goals and achievements. This leads to a greater understanding of the overarching plan, and how employees feed into that.

All of the highest scoring firms held regular social events across the teams in the workplace. These ranged from off-site activities to inter-team coffee get-togethers, with firms often allocating a budget/head for social and training activities. These activities regularly involved cross-pollination of teams, allowing partners, associates and support staff to interact and break down ‘silo-working’.

Another common element of these firms’ communication was an emphasis on new starters having a full introduction to senior individuals and support personnel, underpinned by an internal cross-team support network to foster good relations across the firm from day one.

Statement All Law Firms* Top-Scoring Firms*
I believe I can make a valuable contribution to the success of this organisation 82.5 85.3
I feel proud to work for this organisation 80.88 88.1

*% of Maximum Score

Views of Senior Management (Leadership)

Partners and Directors across the most engaged firms are easily accessible; they make themselves available to all staff for discussions surrounding career progression and personal issues, and consistently appearing at department- and firm-wide events. This is notable across every single highly-engaged firm.

Firm values are visibly demonstrated by Senior Partners, with some firms including 360-degree feedback to these Partners from direct reports about firm values during their annual appraisals. Announcements of firm news or best practice are related to firm values.

Information discussed at a senior level is disseminated in a variety of ways to ensure messages are delivered effectively. There are myriad ways of doing this; some of the most engaged firms opting for working breakfasts or lunches with Senior Partners to share news with paralegals and associates of all levels, opening up channels of direct communication to also understand challenges directly from teams across the firm.

Statement All Law Firms* Top-Scoring Firms*
I have confidence in the leadership skills of the senior management team 74.1 84.6
This organisation is run on strong values / principles 75.6 84.4

*% of Maximum Score

Training and Continued Professional Development (Personal Growth)

The top-performing firms averaged spending of £373 per head across the entire firm.

A particular emphasis from these firms is placed on more generic skills such as presentation, leadership and media abilities, allowing Back Office staff to benefit from the same opportunities for development.

The majority of these firms have a training framework in place for key areas of the business, ensuring that essential training and continuing professional development is in place. These development opportunities are vital to the personal growth of staff, who in turn feel they are getting a fair deal from their employer.

Statement All Law Firms* Top-Scoring Firms*
The experience I gain from this job is valuable for my future 77.4 82.8
The training in this job is a great benefit to me personally 66.9 71.8

*% of Maximum Score

Where Do We Go from Here?

Every firm is different, and each population will have different wants, needs and expectations regarding their engagement. These trends and statistics provide a good starting point from which to act – perhaps the cultural elements from the above Best Practice might give some inspiration, or maybe the correlated factors and statements will help to supplement your HR strategy.

The best way to truly understand your engagement levels is to begin by measuring them. Once this is in place, diagnosis of this data can then lead to the valuable insights which will inform your action plans for the future, in turn presenting you with increased productivity and cash flow, and opportunities for recognition.

Want to find out more? Contact us today at [email protected], or by telephoning 01978 856 222.



[1] Scores given are as a percentage, where 0% is an entirely negative and 100% an entirely positive response to the statement.

Ollie Stokes
by Ollie Stokes
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