10 things to consider when inducting new in-house lawyers

After spending time and effort on recruiting a new lawyer for your team it’s important to ensure that they are made welcome and helped to settle into their new role as quickly and comfortably as possible. Having a poor (or worse, no) induction plan will create a poor impression of you and the organisation and will only undermine the hard work you’ve put into recruiting your new colleague.

In this article we look at 10 points to help you get induction right.

1. Have an induction programme

Many organisations will have a well thought out induction programme for new joiners. That’s a good start but you will want to ensure that the plan covers all the areas you need  to include as part of the induction specific to the legal team. Induction is not just about what happens on the first day, or even the first week.

Organisational programmes will usually cover, at least, health and safety, IT procedures and important staff policies and procedures. Many will also extend to the work and structure of the organisation and of its different divisions, departments and personnel. But you will also want your plan to cover other areas and you’ll want to build these in.

2. Start your induction before the start day

Before your new lawyer starts, in addition to the information they will receive from your HR colleagues, you can let them have useful information about the organisation, the sector in which it operates and the department. The early days and weeks can be a bit of an information overload for new joiners so take the opportunity to send your new lawyer useful but less critical information in advance. This can often be done by way of a welcome pack to also include contractual and role information.

You can also arrange some early ‘get to know you’ meetings with staff before the start day, for example meetings with the legal team and perhaps key clients. You can also discuss the induction programme with your new lawyer, getting their input as appropriate.

3. Focus on what is essential and useful

To avoid information overload, build into your induction programme what information your lawyer must have and what would be useful and focus on this. Decide also the best way to communicate as swamping your new colleague with paper is unlikely to help. Your organisation/department may well have important information in an online format which you won’t want to replicate on paper.

4. Buddy schemes

Many organisations have buddy/mentor schemes to welcome new joiners to the organisation. A buddy is usually a member of the team, someone who will not only be part of the ‘welcoming party’ on the joiner’s first day but also someone who will help your new lawyer navigate their way around the team and the organisation in the early days and weeks of their joining – everything from where to get a coffee to departmental practices.

It’s a responsible role requiring someone with good knowledge and people skills and who is a role model for the team. But don’t just appoint a buddy, give them a brief for what the role entails. For example, are they responsible for making introductions or is that left to the line manager or head of the team? A buddy is not a manager or a mentor but they can play an important part in welcoming your new lawyer and helping them settle into the team.

5. First day

You’ll want to make sure that you’re ready to greet your new lawyer on their first day. If the plan is for them to come straight to your team on arrival, make sure someone is designated to meet them and escort them to your part of the building. Alternatively, they may visit HR first to deal with various matters, including security access and paperwork. So make sure that someone is on hand to welcome them (an appointed buddy, say) particularly if they arrive with you at a time when few members of the team are around.

Having welcomed your colleague and got them comfortable in their desk and work area, it then pays to have a structure for the day in place. This could involve a tour of the building and facilities and making sure that there are people around to show your colleague where to get food and drink and to accompany them. You’ll also want to ensure that you introduce your colleague to their new team members and colleagues, or at least those they haven’t already met.

6. First week

In the first and early weeks you will want to focus on the work of the legal team and, particularly, the role of your new colleague. They will already have received a good deal of information but here’s the chance to go through the role and purpose of the team and how your new lawyer’s role fits in. They’ll be keen to get started but you’ll want to ensure as smooth an introduction to the work as you can. You’ll also need to think about checks and sign-offs. Most in-house lawyers are expected to assume responsibility quickly but your new lawyer will need support and you’ll want to ensure that there is appropriate oversight, particularly in the early weeks and during any probationary period.

Your induction programme will also include some planned meetings with key personnel in the organisation – the legal team’s key clients and stakeholders, although you may have been able to hold some meetings before your new lawyer started. Early meetings may just be initial introductions, providing the opportunity for your new lawyer to meet those people that they will be dealing with in the future. It also allows you to showcase your new recruit and to emphasise the collaborative work between your two departments.

Otherwise, the first week is likely to be taken up with introductions to the in-house legal team and their work, familiarising your new colleague also with work processes and systems – case/matter management, document management etc.

7. First month

Your organisation will likely run induction sessions for new joiners, for example involving presentations by different areas of the organisation to explain their work and the overall structure and business of the organisation. Certainly, your new recruit should be attending these.

In addition, you will want to build in more detailed meetings with key clients and, where relevant, external stakeholders. You will need to be sensitive to the demands on others, which is why it is sensible to plan these meetings well in advance, probably before your new recruit even starts. Who attends these meetings rather depends on the role and seniority of your new recruit, but it is the opportunity for them to learn about how the legal team interacts with their key clients and the role that they will be playing in this.

Think also about other events that it would be useful for your new recruit to attend as an observer. This could include, for example, project group meetings, board and committee meetings, client department meetings etc. These will all provide good learning experiences.

8. First three months

This provides a useful milestone for a detailed review of how your new recruit is settling in both in terms of their work and their integration into the team and the organisation. Of course this shouldn’t be the first feedback meeting as you (or their line manager if not you) will want to meet regularly with your new recruit to provide information and hear from them. The three-month meeting is also a good opportunity to get feedback from clients on their early impressions.

9. First six months and probationary periods

Your organisation may have a probationary system for new recruits, which may typically be three or six months. This is the opportunity for both you and your new recruit to assess how things are going and (depending on the probationary terms) whether you want to confirm them in their post. In most cases this will not be an issue. If you have serious concerns however, you may need to decide whether to take action, including perhaps extending the probationary period. This will not be a situation you will want to be in and should it arise you will need to get advice about the steps you need to take to comply with company procedures and the general law.

Hopefully, there will be no serious issues, in which case the 6 month milestone is the opportunity for a first performance review and to agree objectives for the six months ahead. This may be in accordance with standard performance review procedures but, in any event, take the opportunity to have a more detailed review with your new recruit as it will be useful for them and will demonstrate commitment and good management on your part.

10. Twelve month review

By this time your new recruit will hopefully feel like a seasoned member of the team. Having said that, 12 months will go quickly and you will want to make sure that your new recruit is getting the necessary feedback and guidance during this period. But the first anniversary is an important milestone for you and your new recruit and it gives you the opportunity to have an in depth review of their work and contribution and how they feel about their first year in post. You will also want feedback from clients and colleagues and any relevant stakeholders. This is also the opportunity to plan the year ahead in accordance with the team’s business objectives and to agree personal performance, training and development objectives with your new recruit. Make sure also that you get feedback from your new lawyer on the induction process itself.

Your induction programme

How you design your programme rather depends on the extent of your organisation’s programme. In many instances, the organisation (HR in particular) will deal with the essential statutory and housekeeping aspects of employment, such as in relation to documentation, health and safety, compliance with company systems and processes, IT, and payroll. As such, your programme can focus on making sure that your new recruit gets the information and introductions they need to ensure that they are able to settle into their new role as quickly and smoothly as possible and that they feel welcome and able to contribute to the team and the organisation.

Here there is a sample programme to consider and adapt as required. Please download here.

Before start date

  • Send a welcome pack of useful information (or links to) about the organisation and the legal function - e.g. annual reports, reports, dashboards, organisation charts, business objectives
  • Prepare an induction programme and checklist and organise a meetings schedule with relevant parties.
  • Appoint a mentor/buddy in the legal team
  • Communicate new appointment to key clients and stakeholders
  • Hold 'get to know you' meetings'
  • Discuss induction programme with new recruit

Ist Day

  • Ensure that people and the buddy/mentor in the legal term are on hand to welcome your new lawyer
  • Introductions to legal colleagues and key clients and stakeholders
  • Settle into workplace, ensure IT access and that facilities - rest rooms, cafes, printers etc are clearly explained

1st week

  • Explain the role of the legal team, the head of the function and the team's purpose and objectives of the team and of the role
  • Meetings with key personnel - legal colleagues, clients, other stakeholders as appropriate
  • Attend other useful events - company induction sessions, work meetings, client meetings
  • Explain work systems - case/matter management, document management, contract management etc
  • Explain the organisation's purpose and objectives, governance, budgetary and reporting cycle and key legal risks and projects

1st month

Continue with meetings and events programme. Involve new lawyer in work projects ,subject to support/supervision, as required and ensure regular feedback sessions with line manager

3 months

Arrange formal review with line manager and get feedback from colleagues, clients and stakeholders

6 months

Formal review with line manager and feedback from relevant colleagues, clients and stakeholders. If probationary period ended agree objectives for the remainder of the year.

12 months

Full review of the first 12 months. Discuss with new colleague how things have gone and review feedback on performance from others. Complying with the organisation's appraisal and performance review procedures, agree goals, objectives, training and development for the next year. Also get feedback on the induction process itself.