Building a legal team's people function

A viewpoint on this article from Anthony Inglese.

Anthony Inglese on 26/06/19

As the article wisely says, " an enduring legal function must have an eye to the future as well as the present". The practical application of developmental policies sometimes requires occasional short term pain for long term gain.

For example people often need to be moved to a different position within the legal department to enhance their skills and knowledge and to improve the flexibility of the overall department. It is essential that the head of legal and senior members within the department support and champion the process of developmental movement. There is always a reason against moving someone for developmental reasons: they are in the middle of something, their expertise will be lost in the position from which they are being moved, internal clients won't like it, the new person will take some time to get up to speed etc. Movement does sometimes lead to short term dips in performance but not as often as people fear; and on the contrary it often leads to bursts of energy and innovation that raise performance in the short term as well as the long term.

My main piece of advice to senior members of a legal department is not to be deflected by the – sometimes many – reasons offered to you against movement of an individual if you believe the individual needs a developmental move. If this means coming over as unreasonable in favour of movement so be it. In my own legal departments I know that I adopted a not always popular post of unreasonableness on this very point.

Another practical point relevant to movement in a large legal department is, wherever possible to arrange internal moves before the influx of new people from a recruitment exercise. I used to aim to make a series of developmental moves at one point in the year in advance of any influx of new recruits from a recruitment exercise so as to create the maximum number of options for development of existing members of the department. Otherwise positions get filled by new recruits that could have provided a developmental move for an existing member of the department.

A final point on movement; it is always good to consult individuals about the developmental moves they would like to make and to meet their preferences, although of course the final decision has to be made on the basis of the needs of the legal team and the organisation as a whole.

"Personality testing" as mentioned in the article is also a good tool to raise awareness of self and others. It contributes strongly to team development. I have seen it used successfully in many contexts and at all levels to that end. As this article hints, it can also be used in hiring decisions but I would suggest only indirectly as background for example by giving the interview panel questions to probe at interview, rather than directly (for example, "we need more extroverts, he's one, so we'll have her").

To my mind the "people" approach in the article is so attractive that it should be part of the organisation's recruitment prospectus. Many potential applicants for in-house positions come from law firms which require narrow specialisation and build up knowledge, perhaps at the expense of skills. They may assume that everywhere in the legal world is the same. An in-house organisation that says " we want you for your skills and we will develop you" ought to be seen as very attractive to them. And even if the in-house team has a special need to recruit someone for their specialist knowledge it is important to ensure that the individual is tested at interview to check that they have the skills and flexibility to train up others in their subject and move on. 

To read the original article click here.

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