features

对于执业于中国大陆地区的律师事务所来说,“管理的艺术“从未像过去12个月中一样被如此强调。一方面,律所需要在宏观经济的U型曲线中调整机构的生存策略;另一方面,律所也需要应对疫情影响下,员工对于管理手段和律所文化更为“挑剔”的评价。今年登上2021 ALB China 年度雇主榜单的律所无疑是在两种张力下寻找到平衡之道的佼佼者。

 

THE LIST
上榜名单

AllBright Law Offices
锦天城律师事务所

Chang Tsi & Partners
铸成律师事务所

CMS, China CMS
中国

DaHui Lawyers
 
达辉律师事务所

Han Kun Law Offices
汉坤律师事务所

Jilin GongCheng Law Firm
吉林功承律师事务所

Jingtian & Gongcheng
竞天公诚律师事务所

JunHe LLP
君合律师事务所

Linklaters
年利达律师事务所

Merits & Tree Law Offices
植德律师事务所

Paul Hastings
普衡律师事务所

Solton & Partners
重庆索通律师事务所

Tahota Law Firm
泰和泰律师事务所

Wang Jing & GH Law Firm
广东广悦律师事务所

Zhong Lun Law Firm
中伦律师事务所

 

律所管理者经常用“人和”(people business)一词形容律所管理的特质:一家成功的律所不仅要拥有“好的人”(律师和客户),也要善于经营“人与人之间的关系”。如今,越来越多执业于中国大陆地区的律所达成共识:只有依靠先进的管理制度和健康的机构文化,一家律所才能吸引并留住顶尖人才,最终实现商业成功。

后疫情时代,律所对于优秀人才的争夺似乎愈发激烈。据不完全统计,仅在2021年的前两个月,国内就发生了超过40起律师横向招聘。经过一年的疫情洗礼,律师们似乎越来越清楚自己对职业与生活目标的追求,他们开始“用脚投票”,更加积极地追求自己心仪的机构。

今年的ALB China年度雇主正是在这样的大背景下展开。我们共收到了约2600份来自合伙人、律师、律师助理、律所行政支持等人员的调查问卷,他们从疫情期间律所提供的支持、工作满意度、职业前景、晋升机会等角度,对所属机构做出评价。

纵观今年的调研结果,可以看到一些有趣的趋势。评估自己的工作满意度时,员工们普遍从以下四点对律所做出了积极评价:第一是对律所制度的认可,包括工作分配是否合理、付出与所得是否对等、工作环境是否公平开放等;第二是对律所品牌的认可,包括是否能够接触到优质案源、律所是否足够国际化等。

第三是在律所工作是否感到快乐愉悦,包括律所是否有温度、人性化、民主、自由、团队和谐等;最后则是律所是否能够调和机构和个人的发展,包括员工是否能在这里实现个人理想,甚至 “遇见更好的自己”。

制度支持

面对员工评价标准的微妙变化,律所又如何反馈?ALB对部分上榜律所进行了采访,他们都指出:好的制度是良好运营的保障,也能够吸引并留住“对的人”。

例如广东广悦律师事务所黄山主任告诉ALB,广悦的制度自2019年基本定型,“两年多运营下来,基本情况蛮良好的”。他发现,“制度长期执行下来,能够形成一种文化和价值观”,而这些“隐形资本”正越来越多成为优秀人才的考量因素。

达辉律师事务所对此也颇有共鸣。创始合伙人马志华律师指出:制度甚至能勾勒出一家律所的“个性”。达辉成立于2013年,合伙人平均年龄在40岁以下,崇尚“年轻、活力、高度职业化、紧密合作”的律所性格,而这正和达辉的制度相辅相成。

“我们对于律所这类专业性咨询机构的运作模式的理解高度一致:即采用统一的公司制管理。”马律师说,“我们非常崇尚制度化,从人事、支持团队,到文件、计时计费,都使用系统进行统一管理。达辉是一个创业型团队,我们用先进的制度来提高战斗力和竞争力。”

当然,评定制度好坏的标准除了是否合理完备,还包括是否能够做出弹性调整、为员工提供特殊支持——这一点在过去一年显得尤为重要。

年利达律师事务所告诉ALB,疫情确实是对律所制度灵活性的最佳考验场景之一。2020年8月,经过近一年的实地考察,年利达启动了全球灵活办公政策,“员工可以自愿选择何时、何地、如何完成手头的工作……我们为员工提供了强有力的技术支持,例如推行了家庭办公设施以及相关设备的现金补贴制度,使得灵活办公也能高质高效”。

与此同时,“健康和医疗也成为了中国办公室员工热议的话题之一。我们一直在和保险公司商议,预备为员工提供额外医疗保险及其他增值服务”,年利达说。

疫情下强化了员工支持的还有竞天公诚律师事务所。竞天公诚合伙人、管委会成员王卫国律师告诉ALB,“在疫情发生伊始,竞天公诚在第一时间制定了全面的防控方案,从各个方面指导各地总分所在防疫工作上做精做细,最大力度保障员工的工作安全”,特别是帮助两位在疫情期间滞留湖北的员工顺利返京。

而在“员工福利方面,鉴于去年的特殊情况,律所调整了相应的员工补充医疗保险政策,增加了保险的种类和覆盖范围,为员工创造了优质的工作福利保障”,王卫国律师说。

“当家作主”的员工

与往年相比,今年“年度雇主”受访者频繁提到了一个新词:“民主”。这既包括律所内部是否存在公平开放的环境、员工是否有机会参与所务建设;也包括在察觉到问题时,员工是否拥有顺畅的反馈通道。

在达辉的马志华律师看来,“这实际上是一个‘所有权’的问题:我是单纯的雇员?还是也扮演着主人公的角色?”他认为,保障员工获得民主感受的关键在于“合伙人与团队的关系是否融洽,以及是否能够保持顺畅的沟通”。

而在广悦的黄山主任看来,民主的氛围根植于制度,以及制度所形成的文化。在广悦,“现有制度倡导了一种合作文化……例如我们的分配制度规定,10%的利润要固定分配给员工和授薪律师,让所有人共享一年到头的努力成果。这在某种程度上保障了合伙人和员工之间不仅仅是雇用关系,而是事业伙伴。从2018年开始,我们还提倡了一个名为‘人人都是合伙人’的计划,经过三年多实践,形成了一种合作共赢的文化”,他说。

铸成律师事务所也认可良好制度和沟通对于民主氛围的重要性。“铸成拥有完善的决策和管理机构,并下设市场、风控、绩效、培训和企业文化五个专业委员会,我们有足够的能力去处理内部问题以及工作中存在的风险。”铸成告诉ALB。与此同时,“在铸成,无论问题大小,每一位员工都可以随时随地、直接与合伙人对话:从办公环境、设施的改进,到工作中发现的风险和问题。经过管委会评估,凡是对员工工作和生活有益、对事务所业务有帮助、能够使管理更加规范科学、提升铸成服务水平的意见,均可进行调整和改进”。

而为了保障内部沟通的顺畅,尤其是能够听到年轻律师的声音,铸成会“定期为近半年新入所的青年律师与各部门新同事召开‘青年律师恳谈会’”。在这些会上,一方面有“合伙人的讲述与经验分享”,另一方面,“青年律师及新员工们可以畅所欲言,分享加入事务所后的体会,并向合伙人及管委会提出在工作中遇到的问题和解决方案”。

细节中的幸福感

多份报告显示,受疫情影响,被困家中的员工开始更加关注生活工作平衡。但在回复ALB的相关问题时,被调研律师却流露出矛盾的心情。一方面,律师们认为“律所是不可能工作生活保持平衡的”“ 不忙的律所不是好律所”“ 要多劳多得,就需要付出更多时间,个人认为这样很公平”;另一方面,他们也对律所“对请假的容忍度很高”“ 极少打扰员工生活”“ 举办团建活动”等举动表示认可。

诚如一位律师在调查表中所写道的:“在繁重的业务下,要做到生活工作平衡是件不容易的事情。除了律师们自身努力平衡外,事务所也能够在很多细节方面增加律师生活的幸福感。”

年利达律师事务所告诉ALB,员工的身心健康向来是律所关注的第一要务,这点在疫情期间更加突显。“通过瑜伽课和定期组织的跑步俱乐部活动,员工的身心健康得到了很大提升。此外,我们还启动了一系列心理健康网络课,由专业心理学家讲授,涵盖应对不确定时代、构造自我坚韧度等话题。”

“我们向来推崇‘拼命工作拼命玩’(work hard, play hard)的文化。”广悦的黄山主任告诉ALB,“疫情之后,合伙人和年轻律师对健康的重视程度确实高于以往,一方面我们组织并强化了定期体检;另一方面,律所通过瑜伽、插花、茶艺、香道课程,以及旅游活动,鼓励律师不要忘记享受生活的乐趣。”

黄山主任指出,制度支撑和理念也是保障律师身心健康的关键。“例如去年出现了个别律师生病、需要休假的情况,公司化管理制度的优越性就体现出来——因为每位律师都有团队,为他/她提供后盾和依托,不存在不敢休息的情况。”此外,“我们的合伙人拥有共同的理念:生活和家庭是人生中不可或缺的部分。因此能够尊重每一位员工生活的权利”,他说。

不过,正如受访律师本身也强调应客观看待这一问题,达辉的马志华律师说,需要在法律服务行业的特殊语境中探讨平衡。“过度强调生活工作平衡可能和律师的职业性质是相悖的。”他指出,“律师的工作生活平衡或许不是一个每天过得轻轻松松的逻辑,而是在工作时高度紧张、快速回应,同时通过执行正常的休假制度、合理安排假期来得到充分放松。”

马律师说,考虑到达辉律师年龄层的年轻化特征,尤其对于年轻律师来说,“雇主过度向他们强调工作生活平衡其实具有误导性”。在他看来,长远来看,为年轻员工提供“最大程度的曝光”,让他们“接触到顶尖商业组织、做最好的案子、拥有最高的专业度”,同时提供市场上高具竞争力的薪酬和福利,“对于年轻人可能是更重要的”。

机构vs个人?

伴随自媒体和KOL全面席卷生活,最近一两年,越来越多律师开始寻求打造个人品牌,这对原本就采取合伙形式的律所来说,似乎产生了更大的离心力。在律所中,机构发展和个人发展该如何调和?律所能够帮助律师“遇见更好的自己”吗?

“每个人都会考虑自己的成长,但作为管理者,更多要考虑整个团队的成长。”广悦的黄山主任向ALB坦言,“如何把个人成长和律所成长有机结合在一起,而不是变成矛盾或者撕裂,这是需要思考的。我常说,团队管理就像比赛:如果团队发展快,个人就会被淘汰;如果个人发展快,团队就会被淘汰。”

谈到如何在这场“比赛”中取得双赢,几乎所有受访律所都谈到了通过技术或线上工具赋能律师的重要性。

例如竞天公诚的王卫国律师告诉ALB,作为一家非常注重培训的律所,在疫情发生后,竞天公诚“管委会及时做出了调整,利用新构建的线上远程办公软件,将原先的现场培训更新为线上培训。不仅使得培训能够顺利落地,也使得各办公室之间的联动效果比以往更上一个新台阶”。

王律师指出,即便“在疫情平稳后,律所也着力发展线上远程办公平台,重塑各类办公流程,提高办公效率,适应越来越大比例的远程办公需求”。

布局技术和线上工具也是铸成律师事务所过去一年的重头戏。铸成说:“2020年,铸成利用业务增量受限的时机,大力推进AI的应用,并结合OA和机器人的应用进一步优化了流程规范。”

具体来说,在新技术层面,铸成上线了RPA自动流程化办公系统,便利了专利上传、商标注册申请以及所内日常事务管理;聘请专业机构对outlook邮件审核系统进行了自主改造;并全面升级了会议系统,让异地团队也能像共处一室般进行头脑风暴。而在线上工具层面,铸成的“四库全书”建设——即知识库、付费软件库、外代理库、业内信息库——也初具规模。

对于广东广悦律师事务所来说,过去一年积累的积极经验则在于巧用线上媒体平台,既能让个体价值得到淋漓尽致的发挥,又能让积累的流量为律所增值。黄山主任举了两个例子:一是广悦刑事业务部有几位年轻律师非常擅长做视频号,律所于是将打造团队视频号的任务交给了他们;另一个是广悦内部有部分在写作和知识管理方面表现突出的年轻律师,广悦于是在公号上为他们开设了“互联网研究院”和“城市更新研究院”,许可擅长该领域的律师专门从事研究工作。

这样的赋能为个人和机构都带来了很大益处。黄主任告诉ALB:“一方面,以往律师们埋头做业务,没有时间研究新业态和行业发展趋势,研发新的工作工具。现在擅长该领域的律师可以持续把成果供给前线部门;另一方面,以往做研究很厉害的年轻律师在律所内其实很难生存,因为没有业绩。但在公司化、一体化管理的律所里,我们有能力根据不同人的发展路径,提供适合的工作岗位和模式。”

技术工具之外,受访律所也纷纷提到了培训的重要性——这是一种虽然传统,但仍能够让个体和律所同时受益的有效手段。

铸成律师事务所告诉ALB,铸成拥有完善的培训体系,仅在2020年就组织了173场员工培训,其中包括所内在职高级培训18场、业务培训49场。这些培训“涵盖全体员工,内容涉及知识产权及相关行业的前沿理论、实践经验、法律法规变化情况及相应业务操作规范等”。此外,铸成还有个很独特的制度,即为优秀的员工提供无息留学贷款,并会视情况折减全部或部分贷款。

在竞天公诚律师事务所,自2018年启动的“律师培养池计划”则不断促进着年轻律师成长,也保障了机构本身的代际传承。王卫国律师告诉ALB,目前加入此培养计划的律师已经由设立时的十多人增加到四十多人。“该计划着力培养律师的各类技能,包含业务、市场拓展、管理技能等,为律师下一步晋升至合伙人打下扎实的理论和实践基础,帮助律师更好更快地提升自能力”。

去年,竞天公诚在这个项目中着重加强了培养池中的律师与导师之间充分和良好的沟通。“导师不仅在业务上给予律师指导,更在业务开拓、团队管理等方面分享过往经验,帮助律师全方面提升未来作为合伙人的能力和素质。”王律师说。今年,竞天公诚更会鼓励合伙人在所内更广范围内对年轻律师进行“传帮带”,起到资深律师对年轻律师的传承效果。

在年利达律师事务所,相关的培训和辅导计划则特别关注于女性。“我们引以为豪的女性领导力项目已经持续了十余年之久。”该所告诉ALB,“最近还在亚洲开启了新的培训计划,希望为年轻女性职员提供更多支持。这些计划能帮助女同事们拓阔社交网、构建自信,并应对职业生涯不同阶段的挑战。”

挑战与展望

在被问道“您认为律所还应在哪些方面改进”时,有趣的是,受访律师提出的建议很少关注于自身利益。他们往往希望所在律所能够“加强品宣”“更国际化,并开设更多办公室”“专业化提升,更有竞争力”“持续制度改革”“提升行政服务”。一方面,这似乎说明律所员工将机构一丝一毫的强弱细节都看在眼里;另一方面,他们也相信更好的平台终将为个人提供更大的舞台。

律所渴望更优秀的人才,而人才也渴望更优秀的律所——这似乎是许多律所目前的焦虑来源。谈到当下面临的最大挑战,竞天公诚的王卫国律师坦言是“日益增长的律所发展需求与目前优秀人才获取之间的矛盾”。为此,“律所在近几年推出了一系列政策,包括提高年轻律师待遇、加强与各类高校联动合作、推出新的实习生招聘和留用计划、加强年轻律师的技能培训等,并通过提高支持部门服务质量,从人才获取保留、市场开拓、业务支持、行政支持、信息技术升级等全方位为律师提供切实帮助。2021年,我们仍将在上述方面加大投入力度,为律所的发展夯实基础。”

吸引优秀人才也是广东广悦律师事务所的关注重点,为此广悦在2021年特别做出了制度调整。黄山主任告诉ALB,“今年我们会许可独立顾问律师或独立非权益合伙人加盟。有些年轻律师的业绩目前还达不到我们对合伙人的要求,但广悦会用1-2年时间帮助他们成长……这个制度特别能帮助到处于迷茫期的中高年级律师。伴随科技进步,很多年轻人执业四、五年就已经非常优秀,律所不能因为制度的僵化而埋没了人才,也不一定要生搬硬套,要求执业足够年份才能做合伙人。”

当然,更多人才的加盟也会带来新的忧虑。黄山主任坦言:“我们的焦虑在于自身规模还不够大,如果发展速度加快,必然迎来更多新人加盟,未来如何进行有效的文化整合?”他曾经到一家外资所参观,“发现它会在不同层级之间开展很多交流活动。我们现在也要求运营部门进行计划,用更多的交流活动打破文化隔阂”。

而在达辉律师事务所,管理者们正在追求更为细腻的管理。马志华律师坦言:“我们这一代人所经历的时代,和如今年轻律师所生长的时代存在一些罅隙,针对年轻一代对职业思考和需求的不同,我们也在做反思和调整,未来会给大家提供更宽松的环境,例如考勤安排的变通、更人性化的管理等……坦白说,如果律所的管理不随雇员的需求变化,也很难留住人才。未来达辉会成为更体贴周全的雇主。”

年利达律师事务所对此深有同感,“不断变化的环境、年轻一代的预期、以及新员工和客户,都在不断向我们提出新问题,推动我们做到更好、实现更多”,该所说道,“说到底,律所是种讲究‘人和’的行当,只有员工开心、充满动力,他们才能最大程度发挥才干,助力业务成功”。


2021 ALB China Employer of Choice

The "art of management" has never taken centre stage among law firms in China as it has in the past 12 months. On one hand, firms need to adjust their survival strategies in line with the U-shaped macroeconomic curve; on the other hand, firms find their employees are increasingly discerning when it comes to law firm management and culture against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Firms that made the 2021 ALB China Employer of Choice list are the best in finding a balance between the two aspects.

Law firm leaders often use the term "people business" to describe their organisations. They say that a successful firm must have the "right people" (including both lawyers and clients), and meanwhile needs to be good at managing relationships between people. More and more firms operating in mainland China believe that advanced management systems and robust firm culture are the must-have to attract and retain top talents and ultimately achieve business success.

The competition for talent seems to be more intense in the post-COVID market. According to incomplete statistical data, in the first two months of 2021 alone, over 40 lateral hires happened in China. After an extraordinary year of 2020, lawyers seem to be clearer about what they're pursuing in their career, as well as what they want to achieve in their lives. More and more lawyers started to "vote with their feet" and seek opportunities more actively to work with the firms they like.

This year's ALB China Employer of Choice ranking was launched just in this context. We received a total of about 2,600 questionnaire results from partners, lawyers, paralegals, and administrative supporting staff of law firms. They evaluated their firms from the aspects of the support provided by the firm during the pandemic, job satisfaction, career prospects, promotion opportunities and etc.

We find some quite interesting trends in this year's survey results. Most of the surveyed employees who are satisfied with their jobs tend to give positive comments from four aspects: (1) the system of the firm, including appropriate work distribution, performance-based pay strategy, and fair and open work environment; (2) brand of the firm, including access to high-quality cases, and globalization of the firm; (3) positive attitude generated from the work, including whether the firm is a workplace featured encouragement, democracy, open-minded spirit, and teamwork; and (4) enabling employees to grow together with the firm, where employees can achieve their own career development plans, and even better themselves.

SYSTEM SUPPORT

How are firms responding to the subtle changes in how employees evaluate their employers? ALB has spoken with some of the ranked firms, and they all point out that good systems are essential for good operations, and also to attract and retain the right people.

Huang Shan, director at Wang Jing & GH Law Firm, tells ALB that the firm’s system has been basically finalized in 2019, and "it has been operating quite well ever since." The stable operation of the system helps to form the firm culture and values, which have become the hidden assets that enable the firm to lure talented people in the industry.

DaHui Lawyers echoes what Huang says. Ma Zhihua, founding partner of DaHui, points out that the system can even sketch the "distinguishing feature" of a firm. Founded in 2013, with partners whose average age is under 40, DaHui is featured as "young and energetic," and advocates "high professionalism and close cooperation," which are all reflected in DaHui's system.

"We share the same view about how professional consulting agencies like law firms should operate, which is to adopt a unified corporate management system," Ma says. "We believe that it needs to set up a unified management system covering all aspects, from human resources and supporting teams to documents and billable hours. As an entrepreneurial team, DaHui sharpens its competitive edge with advanced management system."

To evaluate whether a system is applicable, in addition to its feasibility and completeness, it also depends on whether the system is flexible enough to give special support for employees when necessary, which was in particular important during the last year.

Linklaters tells ALB that the pandemic last year is in fact one of the best scenarios to test the flexibility of a law firm's system. "After over a year of groundwork aimed at changing the mindset of our people, we launched our global agile working policy in August 2020. Our people can choose when, where and how to get the work done. In the meantime, they are provided strong technical support which could make agile-working efficient and effective. Home-based working facilities and cash allowances for home office equipment were made available by the firm as well," the firm says.

Meanwhile, "health care and medical resources have been one of the hottest topics in the mainland China offices. We have been working with the insurance vendor to provide medical insurance and other value-added services to our people," Linklaters says.

Jingtian & Gongcheng also gave strong supports to their employees during the pandemic. "We formulated a comprehensive protection plan when the pandemic just started, giving the headquarters and branch offices detailed instructions on prevention work to try our best to ensure the safety of our employees," Wang Weiguo, partner and member of the management committee of Jingtian & Gongcheng, tells ALB.

"We've also given supplemental medical insurance to our people in light of the special circumstances last year, adding new types of insurance and increasing insurance coverage, to ensure that our people were well protected in such an extraordinary year," Wang says.

DEMOCRACY AND OWNERSHIP

It’s noteworthy that this year, surveyed employees frequently mentioned the word "democracy" when talking about whether the firm has a fair and open environment, whether employees have the opportunity to participate in decision-making process, and whether the firm has an open channel for employees to communicate with the management team efficiently about issues found during work.

Ma of DaHui believes that "It's actually an issue of 'ownership': Am I just an employee? Or am I also the owner of the firm?" He says that the key to creating a democratic work environment is "whether the partners and teams have positive and effective work relationships and whether they can maintain open communication."

Huang is of the opinion that the democratic atmosphere is rooted in the firm's system and its corresponding firm culture. At Wang Jing & GH, "our system promotes a culture of collaboration ... Taking our income allocation system as an example, according to it, 10 percent of the firm's profits must be allocated to employees and salaried lawyers, so that everyone in the firm can share what has been achieved during the year, which, to a certain extent, ensures that the relationship between partners and employees is not only an employment relationship, but a community of interests. And we launched our 'Everyone is a Partner' program in 2018, which has helped to develop the win-win collaboration culture at the firm," he introduces.

Chang Tsi & Partners agrees with Huang and is also convinced that good systems and communication are of significance to creating a democratic atmosphere. "We have a complete decision-making and management system which is composed of five special committees for the market, risk control, performance, training and corporate culture, enabling us to deal with internal problems and risks in work efficiently," the firm tells ALB. "Our people can approach partners for any issues encountered at work, from the improvement of the office environment and facilities, to the risks and problems found at work. After assessment by management committees, any suggestions that are beneficial to the work and life of employees, helpful to the firm's business, can make management more standardized and scientific, or improve our services will be adopted."

In order to ensure open and efficient communication within the firm, especially to hear from younger generations, Chang Tsi & Partners "regularly holds meetings with younger lawyers and colleagues who have newly joined the firm, at which partners give presentations and share their experiences, while younger lawyers and new employees can speak freely, share their experiences after joining the firm, raise problems encountered at work, and propose to the partners and the management committees the possible solutions."

CONTENTMENT IN DETAILS

Several recent reports show that employees started to pay more attention to life and work balance during the pandemic lockdown. However, the surveyed lawyers have given rather contradictory answers to the questions related to work-life balance. On the one hand, lawyers are of the opinions that "it's impossible for people working with law firms to lead a balanced life," "firms are not good firms if they're not busy," "to gain more you need to spend more time on work, I personally believe that is fair." On the other hand, they agree that firms should "have a high tolerance policy for leave," "rarely disturb the lives of employees," and "hold team building activities."

One of the surveyed lawyers wrote sincerely in the response: "it's not easy to achieve work-life balance when there're lots of businesses to deal with. In addition to the efforts of lawyers to achieve a balance, firms can also help their lawyers to find more contentment in details."

"Health and wellbeing has always been one of our priorities, especially under the pandemic environment," LinkLaters tells ALB. "Yoga classes and an active running club have made a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the people in our offices. In addition, we initiated a mental health webinar series delivered by a psychologist, on topics such as managing uncertain times and building resilience."

"We advocate a 'work hard, play hard' firm culture," Huang of Wang Jing & GH says. "We indeed notice that our partners and lawyers start to pay more attention to health care since the outbreak of COVID-19. The firm organizes regular medical check for our people, and also encourages them to participate in activities organized by the firm, such as Yoga, flower arranging, tea art, as well as outings, to enjoy life."

Huang says that the shared values and system supports are also the key to ensuring the physical and mental health of employees. "For example, last year, when one of the lawyers fell ill and needed to take long days off, he/she can go ahead to take a break because there is a team that gives a strong backing and support for an individual– it's one of the advantages of the corporate management system," Huang says. "And we all believe that life and family are important for everyone, and we respect for their private and family life," he continues.

However, Ma of DaHui points out that legal professionals need to look at the work-life balance issue in the special context of the legal service industry. "Excessive emphasis on work-life balance may be contrary to the professional nature of lawyers," he says. "For lawyers, the work-life balance is probably not achieved according the logic of having that balance every single day; instead, we work intensively, respond quickly to our clients when handling cases, and then take vacations according to the firm's policies to fully relax and rest."

Given that lawyers of DaHui are comparatively young, "it's in fact misleading if the employer overemphasizes work-life balance, especially for younger lawyers," Ma says. In his opinion, in the long run, it's probably more beneficial for younger lawyers by helping them to "gain exposure as much as possible,” giving them opportunities to "work with top business organizations and deal with best cases,” and coaching them to be best professionals; and of course, competitive remuneration is also very important.

FIRMS OR INDIVIDUALS

With social media dominating many aspects of life in China, more and more lawyers have been seeking to build their personal brands in the past two years, aiming to gain more personal business opportunities, which is not such good news for law firms. How could the institutional and personal developments be reconciled? Can law firms really help their lawyers be better versions of themselves?

"Everyone has a plan for personal development. As head of a firm, we think more about the growth of the entire team," Huang tells ALB. "We need to organically combine personal growth with the development of the firm, instead of making the two irrelevant or contradictory. I often say that team management is like running a race, team development and personal growth need to march together to win the race."

Then how to achieve a "win-win" in the race? Almost all the firms interviewed point to the importance of empowering lawyers through technology or online tools.

Wang of Jingtian & Gongcheng tells ALB that coaching employees have always been one of the firm's priorities. After the outbreak of the pandemic, the firm's "management committee made timely adjustments to change training activities from on-site to online using the newly introduced remote office software. In this way, we not only continued training our people, but also enhanced interaction and communication among all our offices," Wang says.

Even "after the pandemic has stabilized, the firm continues to develop the online remote office platform and upgrade all kinds of office processes in order to further improve work efficiency and adapt to the increasing demand for remote office," Wang adds.

Arranging for the application of technical and online tools was also the top priority for Chang Tsi & Partners last year. "We took the opportunity that our business growth was limited during 2020 to vigorously promote the AI application at the firm, and to further optimize the processes and standards by combining office automation and the application of robots," the firm tells ALB.

What Wang Jing & GH learnt last year is using online media platforms smartly, through which the value in employees is given full play. Huang gives two examples: one is that several younger lawyers at its criminal department are very good at managing video accounts, so the firm assigns them to work on the department's videos; the other one is that some younger lawyers have outstanding writing and knowledge management skills, so the firm opens two special columns for them under the firm's WeChat account, "Internet Research Institute" and "Urban Renewal Research Institute,” allowing lawyers specializing in the relevant areas to do the related research work.

The firm is greatly benefited from empowering its people in this way. Huang tells ALB: "On the one hand, in the past, all our lawyers were immersed in cases and had no time to study new business formats and industry trends. Now the lawyers who are good at doing that can continuously provide their study and research results to the front-line departments; on the other hand, in the past, younger lawyers with strong research mindset were in fact difficult to survive in law firms because it's hard to evaluate their performance. But by implementing an integrated corporate management system, we can provide people with jobs and work models that suit their development path."

In addition to technical tools, the interviewed firms also point to the importance of coaching employees, a traditional but very effective way that can benefit individuals as well as firms at the same time.

Chang Tsi & Partners has a well-established training system, and it organized 173 training sessions for employees in 2020 alone, including 18 on-the-job advanced training sessions and 49 business training sessions in the firm. In addition, the firm has a unique system, which provides outstanding employees with interest-free loans for studying abroad, and the employees could enjoy a loan repayment discount or be exempted from repaying the loan in light of situations.

Jingtian & Gongcheng launched the "lawyer training pool program" in 2018, which has continuously promoted the growth of younger lawyers, and meanwhile ensure that younger blood in the firm would be able to take the reins in the future. Wang tells ALB that there're now more than 40 lawyers participating in this training program. "The program trains lawyers on various skills, including among others the business-related, market development, and management skills, to lay a solid theoretical and practical foundation for lawyers to be promoted to partners later."

Linklaters has been focusing on coaching and mentoring female staff. "Our flagship Women’s Leadership Program has been running for over a decade and recently we launched a new coaching programme in Asia, supporting our more junior female colleagues. These programs help our female colleagues to expand their networks, build up confidence and deal with challenges in different stages of their career," the firm tells ALB.

CHALLENGES AND OUTLOOK

It's interesting to notice that when answering the question "what aspects do you think the firm can improve,” most of the lawyers surveyed didn't make proposals related to their own interests. In general, they hope that their firms would "do more in the firm's brand publicity,” "be more globalized, and open more offices,” "achieve professional growth and sharpen competitive edge,” "continuously work on system reform" and "improve administrative services.” On the one hand, it probably shows that employees of law firms know very well about their firms, both strengths and weaknesses; on the other hand, they're eager to grow themselves on more distinguished stages.

Law firms want to hire the best talent, while the best brains are eager to join the top firms. It seems that the status quo of talent recruitment has made many firms concerned. Speaking of the biggest challenge facing law firms, "it's the conflict between the continuously growing demand of law firms and the recruitment of the best talent," Wang of Jingtian & Gongcheng gets admits. "We introduced a series of policies in recent years, including improving the pay of younger lawyers, strengthening cooperation with universities, launching new intern recruitment and retention programs, and strengthening skills training for younger lawyers. Furthermore, we continuously improve the support department service quality to provide lawyers with all-around and practical assistance. In 2021, we will continue to increase investment in the aforesaid areas to lay a solid foundation for the development of the firm."

In order to attract talent, Wang Jing & GH made a special system adjustment in 2021. "This year we will allow independent consultants or independent non-equity partners to join us. For younger lawyers whose performance has not been up to our requirements for partners, we will help them grow to meet the requirements within 1 to 2 years. This system aims to help lawyers grow rapidly, in particular the middle and senior-level lawyers who are struggling to find the right career path or make a personal breakthrough. We should inspire our people and help talent to thrive, instead of following rigid systems, such as before being promoted to a partner, one has to have practiced in the industry for a required number of years, which might stifle talent," Huang tells ALB.

But new concerns arise with more talent joining a firm, as Huang puts it plainly: "We are concerned that given the size of the firm, with the expedited expansion, there is no doubt that a lot of new lawyers will join us. How to integrate different firm cultures effectively? I once visited an international firm and observed that the firm carries out many exchange activities among different tiers. We have asked our operation department to follow the path to break cultural barriers."

At DaHui, leaders are seeking to adopt finer management skills. "We have to admit that lawyers of our generation and younger lawyers grow up in different times and have different needs and views about career development. As leaders, we are adjusting to create a more flexible working environment for our people, such as flexible attendance arrangements. It is hard for firms to retain talent nowadays if we do not change the needs of people. DaHui will continue to work toward a more people-oriented employer," Ma says.

Linklaters agrees and says: "The changing environment, younger generation expectations, as well as our new recruits and our clients are continuously raising new questions for us and pushing us to stretch ourselves and achieve more. We are running a people business. When our people are happy and motivated, they give us their best and our business succeeds."

 

To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com