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Setting the bar high
NZ Lawyer’s 5-Star Employers of Choice for 2023 foster inclusive and supportive work environments based on trust and respect.
While this year’s best law firms to work for represent a cross-section of practice areas and business models, they all share the following core elements, highlighted by INSIDE Recruitment’s associate director of legal Damian Hanna:
top-quality work and continuous professional development
treating all staff with the same degree of respect
instilling confidence that leadership is listening to team members
remuneration that is fairly and transparently paid
an open and flexible working environment
“Every top employer needs to factor the issue of work-life balance into their recruitment and retention strategies, as this issue is now important to every potential and current employee,” says Hanna. “Lawyers also want to continue to learn and improve and put a huge amount of weight on the professional development an organisation offers.”
“What we can deliver for our lawyers is autonomy, giving them the ability to work in a way that fits with their families, interests and the rest of their lives”
Tamsin LedgerSHIFT Advisory
5-Star law firm at the forefront of flexible working
Since launching five years ago, law firm SHIFT Advisory has been at the forefront of the flexible work revolution. Its secondment model provides lawyers with a pathway to return to the profession and enables them to schedule their workload to balance their professional and personal lives.
“What we can deliver for our lawyers is autonomy, giving them the ability to work in a way that fits with their families, interests and the rest of their lives,” says COO Tamsin Ledger. “We saw significant growth last year in the number of consultant lawyers wanting to work with us.”
SHIFT Advisory leads the way in:
Training and professional development: continuous learning opportunities are offered on relevant legal topics, leadership, and health and wellbeing programs
Remuneration: competitive rates are reviewed and uplifted annually based on seniority level
Career progression: an established, well-connected community and an abundant roster of events
Founder and director Prue Tyler fosters a culture of growth and support for staff and consultant lawyers to excel through her leadership and community-building expertise.
“Those elements make us quite unique,” says Ledger. “Prue puts everything she has into every lawyer to find them the right position and support them through the SHIFT community; it’s like watching magic happen.”
Despite its workforce working off-site or remotely, the law firm maintains a connected and collegial atmosphere through regular check-ins with its lawyers and clients to solicit feedback and promote engagement. That commitment is evident right down to the small touches, like when SHIFT sends a cake to their lawyer and client at the end of a contract to celebrate a job well done.
“We’re always looking at ways to ensure everyone feels included and part of the fabric,” Ledger says. “Being thoughtful is important to us, and we actively prioritise the wellbeing of our lawyers through a range of initiatives.”
“We trust our people, and we’re happy for them to have a go at things, to learn and to make mistakes”
Carmen SimmondsNorris Ward McKinnon
Employees thrive at the best law firm
By emphasising open and transparent communication, top law firm Norris Ward McKinnon has nurtured a culture of trust in which employees can flourish.
The firm’s leadership focuses on building solid relationships with their staff, ensuring they feel valued and trusted to reach new heights in their professional contributions to their overall success.
“We trust our people, and we’re happy for them to have a go at things, to learn and to make mistakes,” says general manager Carmen Simmonds. “We give them information and tell them how the firm is doing and how they’re contributing to that; this has been a strong learning experience for our firm and encourages our high-trust culture while also motivating performance.”
The following are the elements that set Norris Ward McKinnon apart:
Career progression: a transparent stance that documents criteria to succeed, recognising holistic performance and individual merit; in the past year, 14 legal professionals have been promoted
Remuneration: a holistic approach that encompasses an employee’s entire contribution and alignment to its strategic pillars
Training and professional development: extensive learning opportunities for all employees, including a mentorship program
Citing their business philosophy of “feeding others first”, Simmonds notes that the shifting role of a lawyer from a mere technical expert to a well-rounded professional has paved the way for everyone at the firm to rise through a shared sense of purpose and team unity.
“The senior person’s job is to ensure those around them and on their team are doing well,” she says. “Responsibilities are pushed down from the top with a relationship-building mindset; the people around you become more competent, learn more and develop, and that makes everyone better.”
The top law firm goes above and beyond in providing its staff with enhanced training and development opportunities. It has introduced an international secondment program involving a small law firm in tropical Rarotonga, Cook Islands, a mutually appealing initiative for Norris Ward McKinnon and its employees.
“It’s worked wonderfully from a relationship perspective with that business, but also, our staff are buzzing,” she says.
This overall approach to culture-building that supports and benefits employees throughout their career journey is noted as vitally important by INSIDE Recruitment’s Hanna.
“A supportive culture is one where everyone feels as if they have a place, a voice and are respected,” he says. “This can be achieved by consulting with staff to understand what culture they’re looking for and implementing transparent and robust policies to ensure the culture is embedded and maintained.”
A family-first approach at the heart of a 5-Star law firm
Two-time 5-Star Employer of Choice McCaw Lewis prioritises its (family) whānau-first approach and values-driven culture, which include manaakitanga, kotahitanga and whaia te iti Kahurangi.
That, along with recruiting top talent that best aligns with those values, has helped propel the firm to rank as one of the best to work for.
“Our focus is on hiring the right people that are a good fit for our organisation as well as ensuring that we are a fit for them,” says chief executive Glenn Forster. “We look for good people and then help them become great lawyers.”
The following are the strategies that push McCaw Lewis to the forefront:
Remuneration: fair and robust compensation with all staff assessed at the same time; no gender pay gap or pay inequity
Training and professional development: director and senior leadership group involved in the crucial training, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa’s He Papa Tikanga (Level 3), as well as Fearless Teams; monthly cultural hours; and in-house sessions
Career progression: clear criteria and KPIs for all position descriptions and promotions; eight staff promoted within the past year
In keeping with its dedication to being “good people and great lawyers”, the top law firm reinforces that philosophy throughout its policies.
“It’s about caring for each other, working as a team and committing to excellence in everything we do,” Forster says. “If you have tough decisions to make or are unsure what to do, you can’t get it wrong if you follow those values.”
Valuing its employees and empowering them to make meaningful contributions is at the heart of McCaw Lewis. It has reignited its focus on employees’ needs to balance their work with family life by renaming that crucial element of workplace satisfaction as “work-life harmony”.
“Our staff knows that kids’ school events or caring for relatives will always be supported,” Forster says. “Work can generally be sorted around this.”
“We look for good people and then help them become great lawyers”
Glenn ForsterMcCaw Lewis
- AJ Park
- Anderson Lloyd
- Bell Gully
- Cavell Leitch
- Chapman Tripp
- Dentons Kensington Swan
- Hesketh Henry
- James & Wells
- Juno Legal
- Norling Law
- Russell McVeagh
- Simpson Grierson
- Smith and Partners Lawyers
- Tompkins Wake
- Webb Henderson
- Wynn Williams
The research team identified a number of key factors in a positive employee experience, namely: remuneration, training and professional development, career progression, diversity and inclusion, access to technology and resources, communication, leadership, work-life balance, health and wellbeing, reward and recognition, and recruitment. Firms were asked to list the initiatives they had implemented in these areas as well as their related achievements.
Nominees were also asked to provide quantitative and qualitative information to support their claims of being top workplaces. A total of 20 firms cleared the bar to make up the third batch of 5-Star Employers of Choice.