Harvesting employee engagement at your law firm

Emma Sell By Emma Sell
from Brahams Dutt Badrick French

This blog post was also featured as a column in issue no.2 of Legal Practice Management magazine. Download LPM magazine to read the issue in full here (8MB file).


Employee engagement is a bit of a buzz phrase in business-speak these days, and it’s something that BDBF employs as both a motivational and incentivising tool. But what does it mean, and should the rest of the legal world be jumping on board?
Feeling “engaged” in your job can mean different things to different people, and can have different meanings for a firm and its employees. An employee may understand employee engagement to mean how satisfied and enthused they are by their work, and there may be a link between an increase in employee job satisfaction and an increase in profit for the firm; however, while an increase in profit is obviously beneficial to a firm, simply increasing employee satisfaction could be a short-term strategy, as job satisfaction can quickly dwindle due to, for example, a change in personal circumstances, lack of variety or the structure of the work, and therefore the key is to keep employees motivated so that they continue to be satisfied.

An alternative and longer term interpretation is that an employee understands the importance of their role within a firm’s overall strategy and that engagement is affected by culture, communication, managerial styles, trust and respect, access to training and career opportunities, work/life balance, and empowerment to make decisions. This is the interpretation that BDBF has chosen to adopt.

Empowering performance

We try to empower staff to make decisions by holding bi-monthly team meetings, where there is a fixed agenda and all staff are asked to consider it in advance and proactively contribute to the meeting. Partners extended the annual strategy away day to all staff (easier to do when the firm is our size, but this could still work on a department basis) so that everyone could feel that they were actively contributing to the future of the firm and its strategy. Even if their ideas aren’t taken forward, at least they’ve been discussed and they know why, rather than simply receiving an email from the management board telling them how the firm is going to operate, without any explanation as to why or what it hopes to achieve.

We have tried to make everyone feel trusted by installing a cloud-based IT system which means we can work remotely. And there’s no pressure to get into the office when public transport or weather lets you down. There’s no red tape to fight through to get a “working from home permit” – if lawyers don’t bill their time, then we’ll deal with it.

Above all, we’ve found that for employees to feel completely engaged, they need to feel that, in the words of our coalition, “We’re all in this together”. Some firms have an “us and them” attitude and admin staff and non-partner lawyers can feel like they’re only there to line the partners’ pockets.
This idea might all sound a bit wishy-washy, and a bit too much like management blurb but, speaking from personal experience, it works. 

And if you need help persuading your partners that they need to invest more in their people, then just tell them that a happy workforce equals increased profit! 

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