“Did you hear how they dealt with Paul? They asked him to leave after 15 years at the firm with just a cheque and a handshake. I know of 5 other partners at that firm who are so disgusted and concerned about their own position they are considering a move. I would have expected an approach to redundancy which reflected the sophisticated and socially responsible methods used in the commercial world.”
It would be a worry for any managing partner to overhear this about his firm. Understandably, one partner has been let go to preserve the PEP but the end result could be the loss of key partners who are considered essential to the firm. In addition, a valuable brand could be tarnished in the eyes of clients and the legal market.
How could this have been handled differently so that the reputation of the firm is maintained, the risk of litigation reduced and the dignity of the individual respected by actively assisting him to secure another position elsewhere?
It may seem counterintuitive to invest in the welfare of ex-employees, particularly when the reason for redundancies is to cut costs. However, there is growing recognition that expert support for firms in handling difficult reductions in staff and in helping leavers and finding new employment can deliver a strong return on investment for employers at a difficult time.
A recent survey by Reed Consulting suggested that up to a quarter of top performers left an organisation within 90 days of a major change announcement being made and nearly two thirds of those polled agreed that offering outplacement support for staff being made redundant generally helped to retain those who remained.
Indeed, the poll showed that a badly handled redundancy programme can lead to resentment and fear among the remaining employers and concerns from clients. More than three quarters of employers felt the provision of outplacement services could improve an organisation’s reputation.
Doing it right is obviously important for the long term.
Advice should be taken on the legal issues from external solicitors, even where a law firm has employment law expertise. Ronnie Fox, described in The Legal 500 as a “giant” in the partnership law sector, says: “Law firm clients asking partners and staff to leave frequently consult me on practical and legal issues They are looking for guidance on best practice and are keen to handle technically difficult situations in a way which reflects well on the firm.”
Terminating staff or partners is a dreadfully painful matter for both parties but those organisations that are alive to the emotional and economic issues that the leaver will face are generally better placed to manage terminations better. Telling the person that they have lost their job and here is a cheque is never good enough as it does not address the emotional aspect. Here is an individual who has hitherto seemed to have been successful in his/her career and firm and now they are being told by others that they have failed for whatever reason. However, there are ways of mitigating the emotional stress placed on the individual.
Be honest and transparent, e.g. if there are performance issues, these should have been identified previously under a formal performance management process. This emphasises importance of accuracy in the firm’s performance reviews. If the issue is economic then be transparent about this. However, there is the question of why a practice has got in to such a position and what, if anything, could have been done earlier to head off such a predicament. Perhaps a more acute approach to partner or associate performance monitoring may have indicated the issues at a time when remedial action may have saved the position.
Doing what you can to help the individual move on should be part of the leaving process so that the individual is both emotionally and practically prepared to embark on a review of his/her skills, performance, practice and business plan. Obviously, to build an action plan that will help the individual maximise the opportunities available will take time, effort and skill and the more sophisticated organisations use specialists in the field to effectively outsource this aspect. This is what is sometimes called outplacement. The benefits to the organisation are manifold:
Increase the productivity of ‘survivors’
When partners leave involuntarily, the morale of remaining staff can decrease dramatically due to a rise in workload, loyalty towards lost colleagues and fear of future job cuts. An outplacement programme which positively impacts the wellbeing of leavers and their ability to find new employment will improve morale back in the business.
Reduce employee turnover and attrition
From the moment rumours of partners leaving start until the transition period after partners have departed, employee attrition is likely to rise as employees leave a perceived ‘high risk workplace’ or ‘unfair employer’. Typically, turnover is highest among those you least wish to lose. An outplacement programme earns back credibility and trust and calms the flight of talented employees.
Keep your brand intact
Supporting departing partners is an important part of defending the overall employer and consumer brand. Doing the right thing is more than just good PR – it is good long term business thinking that will stand the test of time. Likewise, ‘skimping’ on such a high-stake initiative will almost always prove to be a poor investment. Your leavers may become your clients!
Remove distractions from other partners
Partner exits naturally coincide with increased tension and pressure on a business or function. Outplacement services can help alleviate the stress and time pressure faced by partners, leaving them better able to manage the remaining teamand concentrate on the future of the business.
The benefit to the individual can be enormous as outplacement can provide:An objective sounding board which allows the leaver to deal with the emotions of losing a job:
- An in-depth understanding of the leaver’s personal and professional competencies.
- Ongoing guidance, support, objectivity and motivation to carry out a structured and productive job search campaign.
- Improved self-marketing skills to operate effectively in today’s highly competitive job market. This includes personal and written communication, research techniques, interviews, marketing strategies and negotiating skills.
- The benefit of a consultant’s knowledge of the job market and contacts, which can lead to timely employment alternatives.
However, there are a few outplacement specialists that focus on the most important thing -preparing the job seeker to excel at job seeking. There are few job opportunities at the moment so the exceptionally well prepared will be at the advantage. Job seeking, business plan and CV preparation, interviewing etc are skills that need to be practised and honed. Though there are a number of outplacement firms who have law firms as clients, there are few legal industry specialists. Furthermore, those outplacement firms with close links to the search firms who have access to the unadvertised section of the employment market (70%) and who can find the suitable jobs are those that can provide the most value to the firm and the individual.
So, the firm has had to lose some partners but has been honest, transparent and used an outplacement service…
“Did you hear about Paul? Got the shove. Got a good package and some of this outplacement stuff. He said that it was really useful in getting him sorted. Found a new job as well as general counsel for a big multinational – best thing that ever happened. Ended up with a good cash settlement, a new job he really likes and can’t say enough good things about his old lot. He has even instructed them! A firm that looks after its people like that must be a great place to work and their client care must also be great.”
The Managing Partner smiled inwardly and new the new instructions will more than pay for the fees paid to the outplacement service.