A lesson that firms seem to be understanding increasingly more in recent years, particularly since the pandemic, is that people are more than their jobs. The best way to encourage great performance out of employees isn’t to increase the pressure on them even further but rather to acknowledge that they have lives outside of work. Fostering support systems for them in the office not only for their work but their personal lives as well can contribute to improving all areas of their lives, including, naturally, job performance.
GoodCourse’s Chris Mansfield spoke to Jordan Bell, principal lawyer and Head of People at Slater and Gordon, a consumer law firm, about how to best accomplish this and ensure that employees feel fulfilled in all areas of their lives in order to get better results for clients.
Honestly, people leadership wasn’t part of my vision for my career when I started out. As is the case for every trainee lawyer, you’re just delighted to have a training contract and you make the most of that by throwing yourself into legal work. I wanted to stay with the firm where I trained, which had a great reputation for the work I wanted to do in Industrial Disease. In the early years of my career, I benefited from the mentorship of fantastic people leaders. That really opened my eyes to the value that can be added to a legal career by those who have experienced what the junior lawyer is now experiencing and so I began seeking out opportunities to be involved in people-related programmes and agendas myself. That started with getting involved in recruitment—sitting in on interviews, and asking questions of potential candidates. Then I began mentoring junior lawyers, trainee solicitors, and paralegals. Because I’d learned a lot from people willingly and genuinely giving time to aid my development, I felt it right to do the same for those coming after me. I started to develop a real passion for people, and it really progressed from there. So in the end, it was something of a natural progression as I sought out opportunities to pay forward the support and mentorship that I had received and continue to receive.
In a nutshell, the success of our business rests on the work that our lawyers do—the fantastic successes that we achieve for clients, who are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society and often in very difficult circumstances. We handle cases for people who have been catastrophically injured or diagnosed with a terminal illness or who find themselves in a family or employment situation which is highly emotive and can be very charged. All of these experiences and stories have people at their heart. Having and continuing to be exposed to those people experiences as a practising lawyer myself — and I consider it of utmost importance that I do continue to be a practising lawyer — I understand what it takes to support our clients and win difficult cases: the tools you need, the relationships you build, the team work required, the time it takes. All of this gives me a real insight into what matters to our lawyers and what it takes to be successful for our clients.
In my role as Head of People, credibility is so important because when you ask a lawyer to do something that, for example, takes them away from their case work, you are asking something difficult. It’s taking them away from supporting their clients and meeting their targets. But if you’re asking them to do something that also takes you personally away from the “day job” they see it has value, not just to the business but also to me personally. I’m not on the sidelines encouraging and urging participation. I’m in the mix with my colleagues and I’m proud of that.
First and foremost, we recognise that our people are more than lawyers. They have a life outside of work. And that opens the door to discussions about more than the legal work they do. We also do our best to ensure that any initiative we undertake isn’t just the right thing to do but that it also aligns with the needs and values of our people as well. There’s no point in rolling out a huge new initiative that our people don’t want to participate in. That would be doomed to fail. You can’t force genuine participation and we don’t want half-hearted or feigned participation. So, it’s important to have those conversations and find out what matters to our people. This ensures the greatest level of buy-in.
I would say first of all that, yes, there are commercial benefits to EDI work but, in my experience, they rarely form part of the discussion, and I think that’s right. If there’s a commercial benefit, that’s good. But if there isn’t and it’s the right thing to do, should that stop us from doing it? The answer is clearly no. Looking at EDI solely through a commercial lens will never work. It’s not authentic and that will be obvious to people.
As far as what we do when it comes to EDI, I like to think that we have a diverse and inclusive workplace as a natural flow of our transparency, objectivity, and wide-searching when it comes to recruitment. In rewarding our people, we focus on fairness, performance, and supporting individuals who may have particular needs. As we focus on those things, what we end up with is a diverse workforce which yes brings commercial benefits, but diversity isn’t the goal in and of itself. It’s a natural flow.
That said, approaching recruitment and reward, as examples, in an objective way is not inevitable and we are mindful of that. We take the time to train and support our colleagues to ensure that they are live to bias, in its many forms and this ensures that, as far as we can, we find and retain the best people to align with our values, succeed for our clients and enhance our already diverse and vibrant culture.
One word: efficiency. In the consumer legal market today there are so many external pressures such that, in many cases, it can be extremely difficult to represent our clients. And so the best way for our business to continue to be as successful as it has been is for our people to, whilst striving for expertise and to become leaders in their fields, learn to work as efficiently as possible. Part of being an excellent lawyer, now more than ever, is being efficient in the way that you work.