How to Prepare to Take Leave

Written by Caitlin Chapman – Recruitment Consultant (Legal Support) Sydney NSW

Taking leave from work is always exciting and we all deserve a break from work and the opportunity to completely tune out. However, this is often harder in practice and depending on your chosen profession, can require careful planning and preparation. Below I have listed some tips on how to ensure your time off work is as seamless as possible and your return to work, not so chaotic!

  1. Prepare yourself! Try to ensure you have all urgent/pressing work finished up prior to taking your leave, not only for your own sake, but also for that of your colleagues and clients/customers. Try to plan ahead and complete any work you can in advance, the more prepared you are in the weeks leading up to your leave, the more seamless your break from work will be. Don’t forget to also set up an Automatic Reply on your outbox prior to going away.
  2. Prepare your colleagues! When preparing to take leave, it is also essential to prepare your colleagues. Remind your colleagues in the weeks leading up to your leave when you will be going and ensure to send them calendar invites so they are aware of the exact dates. You should also select a colleague that you work most closely with to specifically help cover you. For this colleague, you should provide detailed instructions on everything that needs to be done to cover your desk and anything you require them to do. Your colleagues will only be all too happy to help you out while you are away from your desk and will know that in return, you will do the same. I would suggest having a comprehensive written brief and instructions left for your colleagues as well as verbally explaining the list and ensuring your colleague or colleagues have a full understanding.
  3. Prepare your manager! Your manager should be aware of your time off work well in advance as you would have had to request Annual Leave. However, in the weeks leading up to your leave, it would also be useful to have another in-depth discussion with your manager to ensure they are aware of any significant deadlines or duties that need to be performed/met in your absence. This can ensure that if for whatever reason your colleagues run into problems, your manager is across the situation and can step in if needed.
  4. Prepare your clients/external stakeholders! If you work with customers, clients or any other external stakeholders, it is important that you inform them of your leave in advance. It may also be necessary (depending on your area of work and length of leave) to introduce the colleague who will covering for you. This can ensure a smooth transition and that customers and clients are put at ease whilst you are away.

Having followed my above tips on preparing for your leave, you should be able to leave your desk stress free and enjoy your holiday! Bon Voyage!

Law Firms in Australia and the Talent Vacuum

Written by Marianna Tuccia and Nicholas Brown (Legal Professional, Sydney NSW)

A talent war has been waging over the last couple of years in private practice law firms in Australia. Particularly in that very sweet spot of 2 to 6 years post admission experience.  And especially in the sought after practice areas of real estate, finance, capital markets, projects and infrastructure. Law firms are pouncing on rising stars.

This skills shortage is a result of a number of factors. In the last 24 months, the international market has re-opened its appetite for Australian qualified lawyers i.e. Asia, the Middle East, the US and the UK have successfully recruited first class talent from the major law firms in Australia. Additionally, more and more lawyers are going in-house. According to an article by Matthew Hodgkinson from Eaton Capital Partners, ten years ago only 10% of corporate lawyers were practising in-house; a stark contrast to the 35% that are working in-house now. Another factor contributing to the skills shortage is that lawyers are leaving the profession altogether and going into other fields e.g. business development, journalism, legal editing, policy and government, teaching. A worrying trend is that many lawyers are questioning whether a career in law is for them. Long hours, demanding and unrealistic clients, timesheets, the workplace hierarchy in traditional law firms are contributing to the legal profession loosing talent. These factors are also contributing to the rise in the ‘NewLaw’ firm models. Recent examples of these firms are Hive Legal, Keypoint, Nexus, Marque, Salvos Legal.

Theoretically this skills shortage should be offset by the exponential growth in the number of law graduates vis a vis the number of legal practitioners. According to a November 2015 Australian Financial Review article by Emanuel Tardos, there were approximately 15,000 law graduates in 2015, compared to 11,000 in 2011. These graduates are entering into an industry with just over 66,000 practising solicitors in Australia. Although the number of graduates has increased, this has not converted to a higher rate of employment for law graduates. Additionally, the disruption in the legal profession (which has been extraordinary in the last few years) in terms of technology ie intelligent contracts, E-contracts and E-discovery technology is equating to less and less opportunities for law graduates and newly admitted lawyers. Tasks like discovery and other low level work are being outsourced off-shore and are no longer being undertaken by law graduates.

The question becomes how do law firms overcome this skills gap, particularly at the 2 to 6 years post admission experience level? What can they do to secure that rising star over their competitor? How does a law firm win the talent war?

Trite as it may sound, but retaining your existing talent is just as important as ‘acquiring’ new talent. Managing Partners of the top tier law firms rely on their brand reputation in order to recruit and retain talent.  In a October 2016 article in Lawyers Weekly, Ashurst’s head of HR Asia-Pacific, Richard Knox said that the firm’s key point of difference that allows it to attract and retain talent, is that the “firm is well positioned as one of only a couple of truly integrated global firms that brings to the Australian market a full service offering, with a premium client list that sets us apart from much of our competition … The firm provides them the opportunity to work on clients and matters at the very top end of the market in a supportive and flexible environment. We have found our staff really engage with that proposition.” The efforts of King & Wood Mallesons are different. Newly appointed Global Managing Partner Sue Kench said that, among other initiatives, they had “Design Week – a week with speaker forums, workshops, hackathons and events all focused around designing the firm for the future”.

It is interesting to see what other professional services firms are doing to win the war on talent. In KPMG’s report “Being the Best: Inside the intelligent finance function, Talent Management – Playing for keeps” the financial services industry are facing similar issues. With regards to retaining talent, under the heading ‘Engage and Retain’, their advice is to manage performance through 360 degree feedback, and reward innovative strategy. Moreover, KPMG prides open and honest communication in order to make sure that their talent feels valued.

It is, therefore, of vital importance that law firms put talent management at the top of their strategic agenda. Law firms need to work hard to improve their recruitment and retention strategies if that gap in skills is to ever be overcome. The question “Why would a talented lawyer want to work here?” must always be at the forefront of every Partner’s mind. If the answer is not compelling, then more thought needs to given to the improvement of the firm’s workplace culture and practices.

Extensive training strategies, internal learning and development programmes as well as more on the job training by Partners will also assist in overcoming the skills gap. In some instances, the answer to overcoming the skills shortage may be right on your doorstep – retrain the underutilised and under-challenged lawyers already in your law firm. Additionally, law firms need to think creatively and outside the box when undergoing the recruitment process. If that wish list cannot be entirely fulfilled then time and resources need to be spent to upskill candidates.  On the job training by Partners and more Senior Lawyers ought to come into play more often than is presently occurring. You just never know how much a candidate will develop and grow into the role within 6 to 12 months’ time.

The war on talent will only intensify. Quality lawyers only want to work at quality law firms – law firms that are emulate agility, cultural cohesion, diversity, open communication and true collaboration. Law firms that do not emulate such qualities will eventually fold.

Ask a Specialist Legal Recruiter: “What are your top 5 recommendations for entering the legal market?”

Specialist legal recruiter: Hi. My name is Libby Mizrahi (LLB) (Hons) and I’ve been recruiting legal professionals in the Melbourne market for over a decade. Throughout my career, I’ve recruited both in house and private practice roles, from Partner to 1st year Solicitor, in international global tier 1 firms as well as  small boutique suburban firms. I’ve had several children in that time, so I am acutely aware of the issues facing working parents and how flexibility in the workplace really works. My blog is aimed at imparting my experience and knowledge to you. Enjoy!

Be Honest: Don’t lie, don’t overestimate and don’t oversell.

We all want to portray ourselves in the best light and rightly so. Not at the expense of the truth, however. Whatever you hide from your recruiter will come out into the open… eventually. Whether you had a personality conflict with a partner you worked with previously or you need 4 weeks annual leave in the first year of your new role – make it known so it can be dealt with appropriately.  On the flip side, don’t undersell yourself – focus on your best points and highlight these with examples to back them up. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

Be open to opportunity: Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.

Upon entering the legal market, it’s a good idea to consider all opportunities. You never know who you might meet or what sort of exciting work lies around the corner if you’re closed minded. I’d never pressure anyone to take a role that they have considered but deemed unsuitable. However, if you go through the process of considering a variety of roles, it can actually lead you to your ideal role.

Preparation is key: Practice makes perfect

It’s best to enter the process with a clear picture of your strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes, etc. Obviously I can help you crystalize these, but the process if you have put some independent thought into it. Practice answering both CV based and behavioral interview questions beforehand. Again, I can help with this. If you can’t explain it, and back it up with an example, it shouldn’t be on your CV. Knowing why you want to work for a certain company well ahead of time can make all the difference.

Be N.A.T.O: Not attached to outcome

It’s business, not personal. Be professional, personable, punctual, respectful, positive… and slightly detached. There are many factors that go into a hire and sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Don’t take it too hard, do take any constructive criticism, note what went right, learn from it and move on.

Your career is long – make the most of every interaction

Using a recruiter facilitates many connections, the recruiter herself, multiple HR professionals, support staff, Partners and lawyers. Careers are all about connections, be sure to make them where possible and leave a good impression, you never know where you will meet again in the future.