Comment: The importance of homegrown talent

Posted: 10/09/2019

BL64_SeanCheong_collasGone are the days when poaching from the City was a viable recruitment strategy, says Sean Cheong, Partner and Training Principal, Collas Crill Guernsey. Add into the mix Guernsey’s housing laws, and the island’s businesses are left with a clear message: put training and development higher up the agenda

By the time you read this, our fresh crop of trainee solicitors in Guernsey and Jersey will have completed their induction into new roles, joining thousands of trainees across the country in the first step of their professional lives. 

For some, it may be their first foray into a real-life working environment after at least four years of study (graduate and postgraduate). Training normally takes two years, but may be reduced where prior relevant experience can be shown. 

A trainee is expected to rotate through different ‘seats’ while training to experience a range of practice areas and to develop relevant and transferable skills. There may also be an opportunity for secondment to other offices within the group, to a client’s in-house legal team or to a friendly leading UK firm.  

New to the game

Training and development are important in any business, but vital in professional services firms. Compared with the UK, law firms in the Channel Islands are, surprisingly, relatively new to offering formal training contracts.

The reason for this is not clear. There may have been an expectation that City lawyers, jaded by late nights and long commutes and susceptible to the prospect of a more balanced lifestyle (and better weather), would readily fill any gaps in offshore firms. Judging by intense competition among the top firms in London in recent salary wars, this method of recruitment of junior lawyers may no longer be effective.

While we may be relative newcomers to training, the quality of offshore training is generally high. It is the responsibility of the firm to allow its trainee to ‘learn on the job’ in a supportive environment.

This does not mean trainees should be wrapped in cotton wool, cosseted and kept a safe distance from the front line. Far from it; trainees generally thrive in teams that provide appropriate supervision in a challenging environment.  

The benefits are not all one way; lawyers of varying seniority hone their teaching, supervisory, delegation and people management skills in the process. Those used to running solo practices eventually adapt to life with an enthusiastic and capable trainee and, dare I say it, may even enjoy the engagement.

It is well known that firms that invest in training have higher success rates in recruitment and retention of talent. Collas Crill has been training solicitors for over 10 years in Guernsey, with a retention rate (on qualification) of over 80%.

Collas Crill in Jersey launched its training programme three years ago. In a tight market, the ability to grow your own talent must be embedded in a firm’s strategy. 

As every generation of young(er) professionals tells us, things are different now. Not every recruit seeks a professional career for the long term; many will experience at least three job moves within a decade. Work-life balance (once considered aspirational or a luxury) is increasingly important.

For some, the prospect of an overseas secondment is high on their list of priorities. We are expected to accommodate not only functional training needs but also the ambitions of individual trainees.

Building pipelines early

Firms in Guernsey have to work within restrictive housing laws, which can make it difficult to recruit from outside the island. This has resulted in some firms building their pipelines early.  

Collas Crill starts its search for talent at pre-university stage. In Guernsey, we partner with schools to provide coaching to sixth form students for an annual Moot competition – a mock judicial proceeding set up to examine a hypothetical case as an academic exercise. 

Many firms offer short-term placements to secondary school students, as well as bursaries to undergraduates, with the promise of work experience during term breaks and summer holidays. A paralegal scheme (usually for one year), if managed well, can be an excellent opportunity for someone who is undecided to be gainfully employed in a law firm before applying for a training position – an unofficial try-before-you-buy plan for both sides.

Every organisation that runs a training programme recognises it is a long-term commitment. It can be expensive in terms of hours devoted to teaching and supervision. 

A decent programme doesn’t simply roll out qualified lawyers at the end of two years like a conveyor belt. However, a byproduct of good training is that it strengthens the business’s own culture as well as its brand. 

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