今年登上ALB China 年度雇主榜单的律所共有15家，其中有6家是新上榜律所。上榜者中包括2家国际律所、10家中国全国性律所，以及3家总部位于北京、上海之外的律所——分别来自吉林、成都、广州三座城市。
2023 ALB China Employer of Choice
As in other years, law firm employees in China were invited to vote for their favourite employers. This year’s winners won the hearts of their employees by showing genuine care throughout the challenging year of 2022. However, their work is far from done, as employees’ needs continue to change.
This year, more than 2,600 law firm partners, lawyers and support staff working in Mainland China participated in ALB’s annual Employer of Choice survey, delivering report cards on their firms in areas such as job satisfaction, remuneration, mentorship, career development prospects, IT level, and work-life balance.
The era of social media has turned everyone into a KOL (key opinion leader). As a result, every employee is an ambassador for their own firm. Employee recognition not only means that a firm is operating healthily and sustainably but is also an excellent way to spread the word about the firm’s brand.
Fifteen firms have made it to this year’s ALB China Employer of Choice ranking, with six new entries. Among the winners are two international firms, ten domestic national firms, and three regional firms, headquartered in Jilin, Chengdu and Guangzhou, respectively.
The period covered by this year’s survey is mainly 2022. Although the memory of those 12 months of pandemic lockdowns may have faded away by now, the sense of responsibility and care shown by the firms then have left lasting impressions on employees, becoming essential parameters for their positive evaluation.
As Cui Yu, management committee member and COO of Zhong Lun Law Firm, says: "Everyone who has experienced the pandemic has gone through many changes during those days, and their mentality has been affected to some extent. We have observed that employees have shown greater reliance on their employer, have started to pay more attention to job stability, and have begun to value work-life balance and flexible work arrangements more."
Winning firms tell ALB that in 2022, almost all of them supported employees amid challenges by maintaining pay levels, offering flexible work arrangements, providing psychological counselling etc.
Wang Xin, chairman of the Zhongwen Law Firm’s executive committee, points out that despite 2022 being Zhongwen’s most challenging year throughout the pandemic, the firm continued to "provide employees with the best experience". For example, without cutting pay or laying off staff, Zhongwen even maintained its budget for cultural and sports activities as in previous years. Employees who got infected were also given the greatest degree of privacy protection and care.
With the pandemic subsidising, all kinds of "extraordinary measures" may have ended temporarily. However, Chen Yaoquan, management committee member of TianTong Law Firm and head of its Shenzhen office, points out that what has struck TianTong the most in the past three years is, in fact, "whether the emergency response mechanism and channels of the firm can function smoothly when affected by extreme social events", such as the procurement of materials during emergencies and the provision of services for affected employees, "all of which have posed new tasks and challenges for TianTong".
In response, the firm organised special partner meetings to review the measures taken and proposed specific solutions, including setting up an emergency supply team, beefing up employee supplementary insurance, and unblocking medical and other resources internally, so that "we know where to start and how to start to solve issues amid future emergencies," says Chen.
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Apart from rules and systems, sometimes one or two minor improvements that firms turn their attention to can go a long way towards winning the hearts of their employees. As a result, firms have begun looking more closely at the details of processes, and this year’s winners have a lot to share.
TianTong Law Firm made great efforts to improve its operations at all levels last year to raise employees' quality of work and life. TianTong is one of the few firms with an in-house canteen in its Beijing headquarters. According to Chen, partitions were erected in the canteen last year, and monitoring devices were installed in the storage area to ensure food safety. In addition, the canteen began to launch weekly recipes according to dietary requirements last year and regularly changes the mix to ensure meals are both nutritious and appetizing.
Apart from catering upgrades, as spring comes this year, TianTong has also resumed sports activities, aiming to "rebuild its badminton culture.”
When it comes to work, TianTong also actively solves the problems raised by employees. Chen gives an example. Previously, work between junior associates and secretaries could have been distributed more reasonably. "The human resources department held special discussions and made plans to create a separate role of paralegals who can not only perform administrative work but also help associates with some basic legal work, solving work efficiency issues for the team."
How can firms ensure everyone’s voice is heard and responded to, even amid busy work schedules? Chen believes this requires both systems and culture. In TianTong, the partner in charge of each team bears primary responsibilities. "We have a regular weekly meeting where everyone reports the problems encountered during work and life to the partners in charge who will then relay them at the regular weekly partners’ meeting. If the problems reported are across the board, they will be solved at the firm level. In TianTong, partners are always with their subordinates, who can talk to the partners at any time about any issue they have. In this way, it is easier for everyone’s thoughts and demands to reach the management level."
According to Wang of Zhongwen, whether a firm can notice details and respond to them is a direct manifestation of the degree of care shown by the firm, and Zhongwen has done a lot of work in this regard. For example, the firm has developed a call centre to handle urgent "fire-fighting", such as access control issues, unauthorised occupation of parking lots, lost mobile hard drives, etc. The call centre not only solves problems, but also prevents friction from being brought into the working relationship between colleagues, helping to create a more harmonious atmosphere within the firm.
Wang describes another initiative as "practice risk prevention education.” "Based on our observations, younger lawyers are prone to reckless behaviours during practice, such as unknowingly breaching professional discipline, resulting in unfavourable professional records." Therefore, Zhongwen organises senior lawyers to give training on client reception, business attire, interview skills, etc., and senior lawyers "impart their experience to younger generations without reservation".
Guangzhou-headquartered Wang Jing & GH Law Firm has launched its innovative administrative service system called "Xiaoyue", facilitating administrative services with the help of a convenient mobile app. Yang Jie, the firm’s deputy director, shares that "Xiaoyue" lets lawyers sign up for Gateway training camps which are regular activities conducted by partners, senior counsel or special guests regarding professional skill training, experience exchange, business etiquette and mental health. Lawyers can also earn points by participating in such trainings and exchange the points earned for various material rewards or benefits, making the Gateway training camps very popular among team members.
HAND IN HAND
In the past few years, faced with changing market trends and client requirements, firms have worked hard to maintain their market dominance by optimising strategies. However, the execution of any new strategy ultimately hinges on individuals. Organizations and individuals move forward together by gaining the understanding and support of employees amid the transformation.
Zhong Lun Law Firm is a great example. The firm started planning for professional upgrading in 2019 and fully implemented this strategy two years later. During this process, it adjusted the organisational structure for practice management, restructured practice teams according to practice classification in response to new business needs and development trends, and set up six new industry committees.
"After adjusting practice teams, Zhong Lun started to reorganise its knowledge management database according to the new practice framework, and has been helping young lawyers to get familiar with and understand the basic business system and legal service products of their teams as soon as possible. Each practice team also organises regular training to help everyone get familiar with and adapt to the work and requirements of the new team, taking into account the work needs of lawyers of different seniority," says Cui.
Through such efforts, lawyers were able to more quickly appreciate the firm’s intention behind professional upgrading and how such upgrading can empower their work. "The newly established industry committees have been providing senior lawyers with more industry-focused learning contents and market intelligence, enabling them to gain a deeper understanding of relevant industries on top of solid legal skills. An excellent legal foundation, coupled with deeper industry knowledge and more effective tapping of industry resources, has enabled our lawyers to provide services and solutions that are more targeted and have higher value-add,” says Cui.
TianTong Law Firm, on the other hand, has launched nationwide expansion in a relatively concentrated manner in the face of market changes in recent years, setting up eight offices across the country so far. "With expansion come some issues in integration. We are actively thinking about how to enhance the sense of integration among different offices," says Chen.
He summarises those issues into two aspects: the desire for more cross-office communication and the desire for more sophisticated professional guidance. TianTong already has some solutions. "First, we have set up vertical practice committees that transcend the office structure, which allows partners from different offices to participate in the committee and break down geographical barriers, to achieve integrated collaboration, training and even team building in each practice area.”
Chen continues: “Second, we ask partners to shoulder responsibilities for spreading TianTong's culture and values, and to regularly promote our culture and values to colleagues. We also encourage more Beijing-based partners to visit other offices and spend a day or two there to talk to local colleagues."
POWER OF YOUTH
With millennials gradually becoming business backbone and Gen Z becoming the main force, law firms in China have been paying more attention in recent years to the remarks by the younger generations and have launched initiatives targeting younger lawyers, hoping to become "more popular among young people" at institutional and cultural levels.
Yang of Wang Jing & GH shares the firm's various work in this aspect in the past year.
First, "we encourage young lawyers to participate in the development of the firm through the establishment of four working committees: strategic planning and development, business improvement and talent training, brand promotion and market expansion, and culture and public welfare undertakings. In this way, young lawyers can achieve self-growth while the firm can benefit from greater vitality through the ideas of young lawyers, both energising our young people and making the firm a more attractive platform," says Yang.
Second, as young lawyers place more emphasis on a transparent internal mechanism and culture, Wang Jing & GH has made particular efforts to optimise its promotion path to "let every young lawyer see the direction of growth within the firm and where he/she can work on".
According to Yang, "we added the level of salaried partners last year, allowing more young people who have expertise and are growing fast to have a more diversified space for development. In terms of promotion criteria, we increased the weightage on indicators such as hours spent on market development for the firm and hours spent on proactively providing training and sharing expertise, so that young lawyers appreciate that promotion is not only a recognition of financial competency, but also means a sense of responsibility and mission to grow together with the firm."
The emergence of ChatGPT at the beginning of this year has made many legal professionals face up to the impact of artificial intelligence on legal practice. In fact, large firms have long adopted technology tools in different forms to raise efficiency and improve employee satisfaction. However, more and more "Internet-native" young people are also eager for their firms to keep pace with the times and upgrade technology tools, which becomes one important factor in employer assessment.
In the past year and a half, TianTong Law Firm upgraded its Tiangong system to Version 2.0, which "enhanced or added functions such as data processing, online editing and knowledge management". For example, real-time editing and saving are now possible with online editing, and all file changes are tracked and saved, which is conducive to tracing information and improving the team's overall business capabilities.
In addition, Chen shares that as TianTong begins to act for a large number of first-instance cases, "Version 2.0 has included more work scenarios, and measures such as preservation and enforcement involved in first-instance procedures can all be completed through the Tiangong system".
Zhong Lun Law Firm is committed to providing employees with "whole-process IT services". According to Cui, at present, Zhong Lun’s IT service team has not only regular IT technical engineers who directly provide daily technical support but also dedicated IT roles to serve on other aspects of the technology tools the firm uses.
She explains: "Operation and maintenance engineers ensure the security of the IT system. Software development engineers and application support engineers design the IT system to make it move closer to our work needs, so that more new technologies can be applied to the work and management of the firm. IT training courses help colleagues to understand and use various products faster to improve work efficiency. With higher expectations from colleagues for technology to serve the law, the needs at the frontline are constantly driving the progress of the IT service team."
Providing IT services that better meet the needs of lawyers is also the essence of Zhongwen Law Firm’s internal technological upgrading. Wang tells ALB that, on the one hand, Zhongwen plans to add a special IT course in new employee training to "train them on the use of tools, rather than letting them figure out on their own".
On the other hand, Zhongwen’s IT team currently has some members specifically responsible for the "Smart Zhongwen" project. "They are like programmers who also have lawyers' work background. They will work like product managers to develop tools that are more suitable for Zhongwen lawyers."
AN ONGOING PROCESS
As life and work largely return to normal in 2023, firms are looking forward to resuming many difficult activities due to the pandemic, boosting the intimacy and unity that have dissipated due to various reasons in the past three years.
Cui of Zhong Lun tells ALB: "Everyone’s work and life have gradually returned to normal this year. In-person gatherings and travels have all re-started. Zhong Lun’s club activities, cultural lectures, sports events, group trips and other cultural activities have all been included in this year’s work plan and will be steadily rolled out. We hope to let everyone return to the normal work and life rhythm as soon as possible through more regular activities."
Enhancing team cohesion is also the focus of TianTong Law Firm this year. According to Chen, in addition to various activities, TianTong will resume the popular "Tiantong Culture" column on its WeChat platform to showcase its soft culture.
At the technological level, TianTong is considering upgrading its Tiangong system to Version 3.0. Chen says frankly: "Seeing that many firms have invested in the metaverse and artificial intelligence, we are also having some in-depth thinking: what should Version 3.0 of the Tiangong system look like in the future? We must plan properly based on current technological trends."
Resuming team activities and raising the technological level are also priorities of Zhongwen this year. Wang tells ALB that Zhongwen has recently been selected for the "Law Firm IT Upgrading Program" jointly launched by relevant government departments and plans to upgrade all IT hardware in the next three years to realise smart office operations further, "uplifting all services to a higher level".
More club activities are also in Zhongwen's plan. "Through clubs, colleagues get to know each other, and many even start work cooperation by the close relationship established through club activities. This kind of relationship is more intimate and more cohesive," says Wang.
In 2023, Wang Jing & GH also looks forward to improving the physical and mental health of lawyers through more activities. "Our culture and public welfare undertakings committee regularly organises cultural and sports activities, such as photography contests, coffee tasting sessions, flower art salons, etc. In addition, we have good relationships with other firms to jointly hold professional meetings, book clubs, basketball matches, etc. to encourage our lawyers to ‘venture out’ to broaden their horizons and thinking, and drive the further development of our firm," says Yang.
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