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In-house

In-house: how to attract and retain the best talent 

14 Jun 2018

In increasingly challenging and uncertain times for businesses, it has perhaps never been so crucial to have a reliable, first-rate team of legal professionals on board. In the pursuance of building a strong legal team, it is imperative that organisations can attract and choose from the very best crop of global talent.

But how can they achieve this goal? Is it merely a case of offering bumper salaries and generous benefits? Or, in addition, is there now a growing requirement to offer an alluring workplace culture, and decent development opportunities?

‘It’s not all about the money’

The legal industry is notoriously competitive to break into as an aspiring in-house lawyer, and for those seeking to move from one business to another – even as a seasoned general counsel (GC). Equally, though, large organisations are aware to fact that they need to stand out from the crowd to attract the best applicants. According to Clare Wardle, General Counsel and Company Secretary at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), standing out from the crowd is about being a business the best would be proud to work for.

Wardle believes the reputation of the organisation and its future growth is vital. “Coca-Cola European Partners delivers both short term and long-term results for its shareholders, with consistent growth, cash flow and a strong sustainability strategy, THIS IS FORWARD”, says Wardle. “But, most importantly, it needs to remain a great place to work supported by great colleagues. At CCEP, you come for the brand and stay for the people. We want new candidates and current employees alike to feel that this is somewhere to start, build and further their legal career”.

Sarah Ingwersen, Partner, In-House Commerce and Industry at legal recruitment firm Taylor Root, concurs, adding that overwhelmingly lawyers make their decisions on the chemistry and connection they have with their hiring manager and whether they feel that the company is the best place to take their career forward.

A big part of this appeal relates to the organisation’s culture. There is now an expectation across the legal industry that robust employee support structures are in place, along with agile working practices. This is particularly necessary for junior to mid-level lawyers, Ingwersen says. “It is not just about the money; it’s about the cultural fit and work-life balance – it’s not that these lawyers want to work less but it’s about having that degree of flexibility and also career progression prospects.”

“Other aspects that junior to mid-level lawyers value highly are mentoring, guidance, support within the team, and the company’s philosophy. It’s those intrinsic elements that are extremely important in attracting the best candidates in a candidate-tight market”, says Ingwersen.

Of course, the recent introduction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation coupled with the uncertainty generated by Brexit is likely, in some cases, to make the job of in-house legal teams more complex. Illustrating the value of corporate legal teams, it is not unusual for GCs to have a permanent position on the Board; taking the lead on regulatory and compliance issues, and helping to shape business strategy.

This is a ‘very divisive point’ within the GC population at the moment, Ingwersen says. Organisations that offer a position on the Board and a reporting line to the CEO have a greater chance of attracting the strongest talent. “Having that seat at the table and being able to contribute to the strategy of the organisation is of extreme importance to a GC. If they do not sit on the Board and have that voice within an organisation, they often do not feel as empowered to perform their role adequately. When I work on GC assignments one of the first questions I’m asked is ‘Who does it report to?’. If it is not the CEO, candidates are generally not interested”, says Ingwersen.

Retaining the talent

In a highly competitive industry keeping the best talent comes with its own challenges. Attracting the legal industry elite is one thing, but retaining it is another. It is relatively normal to leap from one organisation to the next within just a few years, particularly during the early career stages – and even more so among the millennial generation. The challenge, therefore, is for organisations to ensure employees feel perpetually engaged, valued and supported – to keep them on board.

“Retention is also directly linked to having the opportunity to develop new skills and expand experience”, says Wardle. “Recently, we’ve been giving employees the chance to take up short-term assignments to work in different countries or to work on cross group projects that will stretch them and enable them to explore a new area of expertise”.

Wardle, who is an Advisory Board Member on Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law programme, adds that CCEP specifically supports the development of women, and that building the leadership skills for employees is critical. “Developing great management and leadership skills, at all levels, should also be a key priority and it’s important that any training is delivered in a way that suits the needs of the employee, which often means in quick, flexible chunks, using up-to-date technology and digital learning. We support development of our women, in particular, with a dedicated leadership programme”.

The right salary and benefits package will always be a key factor for candidates. Though, recognising the importance of an appealing workplace culture, and a focus on career progression and support are also pivotal in attracting the best in-house talent.

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