How I made a difference: Phil Cousins, HR director, Beachcroft

I joined the practice in December 2000. It was the first law firm I’d worked for, and as I began to understand both working with lawyers and how they’re trained, it became clear that they are trained to deal with the law, to build cases and to deal with litigation, but not about the subtleties of managing people, emotional intelligence or reading people’s reactions to how you’re treating them.

So our firm – in common with most, if not all other law firms – had a fairly basic approach to people management. That also spilled into the way people worked with their clients. Clearly, this needed to be looked at.

I started to explain about frameworks and behavioural competencies. This was a gradual process of illustrating that the better you handle people, the better the relationships you will have. I tried to show that if you start to use these behavioural competencies, you can set up a framework as to how the ideal person should operate. And when you interview people keen to join the company, as well as looking at their technical skills, you can also look at the behaviours they display.

I recruited external providers, who came in and talked to lawyers at all levels – from trainees through to senior partners – saying “Think of the firm in five years’ time. Think of the behaviours that will be required to make the practice successful then.”

We were looking for the articulation of aspirational behaviour, and in a language that lawyers understood. We grouped behaviours under a number of headings, such as commitment and passion, and commercial awareness. This is fairly standard stock but the language underneath it, which described how we expected people to behave at different stages in their legal careers, was actually mapping out what employees should aspire to. In the case of the more junior lawyers, it showed them what they needed to do to help them up the ladder.

We produced a framework of behavioural competencies, which we have now started to use to inform the way in which the partners appraise themselves, and against which we judge each other’s behaviours. This is now pretty well embedded with the partners and we are rolling that out with the other lawyers.

We’re about to embark on a similar process for central support areas, such as HR, IT and finance. All of this is reinforcing the importance of excellent technical skills, and demonstrates that the way you behave is massively important. Hopefully this will help continue to make Beachcroft an exceptionally pleasant place to work.

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