Most firms target priority practice areas

23/04/2009 - 00:00

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LEGAL firms are amending their staff management and recruitment plans in light of the economic downturn with confirmation that the true worth of a practice can be found in the quality of its legal professionals.

Most firms target priority practice areas

LEGAL firms are amending their staff management and recruitment plans in light of the economic downturn with confirmation that the true worth of a practice can be found in the quality of its legal professionals.

Top-tier organisations are proceeding with caution, boutique firms are actively recruiting and firms are redeploying staff into areas that have been boosted by the financial crisis.

Allens Arthur Robinson partner Nic Tole confirmed that, while his firm was being careful with staffing levels, he was cognisant of future recruitment possibilities.

"We're proceeding with caution in regards to any further expansion of our current workforce," Mr Tole said.

"But if someone came along with an outstanding CV, we'd certainly look at it.

"And there are no plans to reduce the amount of graduate intake; we take up 10 or 11 each year and there's no proposal to reduce that number."

Deacons partner and Perth office chairman, Shaun Temby, realises the key to providing top quality service lies in focusing on clients.

"It is equally important in the current economic climate to maintain staff morale and continue to offer them growth and development opportunities," Mr Temby told WA Business News.

"With many of our practice areas now busier than ever, we are encouraging our lawyers to gain experience working in different areas and to consider secondment opportunities."

Jackson McDonald chief executive John McLean said his firm had redeployed some junior staff to other areas of the business that were busy, highlighting that the level of activity experienced during the boom wasn't sustainable.

"For us as a law firm it translated into difficulty to recruit staff, difficulty to retain good staff ... the salary expectations were enormous and that just couldn't keep going, it was not sustainable," he said.

"So I suspect we'll see a return to a little bit more of normality in the next two to three years."

Blake Dawson practice manager Perth Leigh Warnick said his organisation had taken a slightly different tack regarding staff redeployment.

He said Blake Dawson had tended to move people geographically as opposed to moving them between expertise areas.

"For example with employment we brought people from Sydney, and for litigation we brought people from Sydney," Mr Warnick said.

"So we moved people around the firm but still within the same field of expertise."

Mr Warnick emphasised the importance of graduate recruitment, believing it to be a critical point of entry to the firm and the critical method of recruiting talent.

It's a sentiment echoed by Lavan Legal managing partner Greg Gaunt.

"We'd have more people rather than less; we're not looking to put people off other than in circumstances where you would ordinarily, that is, they're not performing," he said.

"We think this is a good opportunity because there will be people shaken out of other places and we are keen to talk to them."

Meanwhile smaller firms round town have been pleased that some top quality talent has re-entered the job market.

HHG Legal Group managing director Simon Creek said this new era was all about opportunity.

"I can already see that the softening labour market and the redundancies in the national firms are making it easier for smaller firms to recruit," he said.

Balance Legal's managing director Ken Jagger said recruiting quality staff, which he identified as a key challenge for his firm, had changed significantly.

"I'm getting a couple of emails a day from people who want a job," he said.

"People coming back from London, people who are underutilised in big law firms, locally and nationally."

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