Three ways law firms can optimise hiring business services staff

We had the opportunity to talk to Deborah Gray, one of the Founding Directors of Totum Partners, a search firm who specialise in recruiting business services roles within the legal sector.

Deborah Gray cover.png

In our wide-ranging conversation, we cover, among other things,

  • how the legal sector has evolved over the last few years (and what that change means for recruiting),

  • the growing role of technology within the legal sector and Deborah’s insights into recruiting successfully

  • Deborah’s recommendations for hiring business services staff that law firms can implement right away.

0:00 - 1:40       Introduction, what are Totum Partners’ services

1:40 - 6:20       The changes in the legal sector in the past few years

6:20 - 8:10       Technology: What do clients expect and how do law firms respond?

8:10 - 9:30       Example of how a law firm started selling a software product

9:30 - 13:15     What law firms can do better when hiring business services employees

13:15 - 14:05   At what size should law firms start hiring business services roles?

14:05 - 15:45   The Totum Partners / Aspirant Analytics Salary Survey - pilot and full rollout

15:45 - 17:30   Key takeaways from the pilot version of the salary survey

17:30 - 18:30   10/12/17 September workshops in London about the Salary Survey

18:30 - end Wrapup

Professionalising the hiring of business services roles

It may be a surprise to many, but in large law firms business services employees can make up close to 50% of a law firms employee population. In a piece of recent research into recruitment in the legal sector, in 2018 more business services roles were recruited into the sector than lawyers.

This share has been growing over the last few years and has seen a great wave of professionalisation. This is as a direct consequence of increased competition in the market, and increased demands from clients which have forced firms to be run more efficiently and effectively. 

Totum Partners was established in 2012 to focus solely on recruiting business services roles into the legal sector, such as HR, IT and Technology, Business Development and Marketing, Project Management, Risk and Compliance and Finance.

This trend includes the leadership team of the company: In the past, one of the partners simply stepped into the leading role and took over the agenda of a CEO. Today, C-level positions are staffed by professionals with decades of relevant experience.

Business services leaders now have a seat at the table with the majority of leadership roles on the Board.

Deborah says that no company is too small for hiring dedicated business services staff: “We have recruited for offices with 20 people and £2-3 million turnover”.

Which best practices for hiring business services roles should law firms adopt?

“Make sure you hire the right balance of disruptors and doers”

Deborah Gray, Director at Totum Partners

1. Cross-pollinate

Traditionally, law firms chose to recruit business services employees from within the legal sector. But because law firms are becoming much more commercial and business-like, the benefit that people from other sectors can bring is huge. “Last year 50% of the candidates we placed in our retained searches come from other sectors,” says Deborah. “These firms understand that having someone from outside the sector can offer them a distinct competitive advantage, which in this market is vital.”

But surely some roles require law firm background? “Yes, you could argue that for Risk and Compliance roles, and some Finance roles there is a real benefit in having previous law firm experience.” says Deborah. “But other than that, getting people from outside law can be very beneficial.” 

Granted, it’s not easy to integrate these people into the daily operations of a law firm: “Yes, they may not understand all of the legalese or the unique workings of a partnership '' says Deborah. “But with the right kind of induction process, these people can be hugely successful.”

2. Hire for future needs

Another recruiting pitfall is when someone in a business service function leaves, some law firms “will hire exactly what they had before,” Deborah contends. “Roles evolve and what you have had so far may not be the best fit for the future.” So hire for what a role will need in the future, not what you have had so far.

3. Balance disruptors and doers

Finally, law firms shouldn’t hire too many “disruptors”. Eager to embrace the changes facing the legal market, some law firms tend to over-hire on those with the big ideas and neglect to ensure they have enough “doers” to implement.

A key ingredient for successful hiring is having reliable salary benchmarks. And that’s where a collaboration with Aspirant Analytics comes in.

A new kind of salary survey

Until 2017, Totum Partners have been running an annual salary survey. One of the problems they faced, however, was the fact that the salary figures were self-reported. “There were other things we wanted to improve, too.  Firstly, firms had to provide their data by populating spreadsheets, which was long winded and onerous. Also, the report produced was in hard copy which did not allow firms to manipulate the data,” says Deborah.

Teaming up with Aspirant Analytics, Totum Partners is now launching a new kind of salary survey where the data comes directly out of the company’s systems. Another benefit is that the analysis of the data and the “So Whats” extracted come from Aspirant Analytics who do People Analytics all day, every day.

The two companies have run a pilot with six large UK-based law firms and already with this small sample found interesting insights, such as:

  • A trend towards moving business services outside of London. This is, as Deborah says, due to a lower cost base as well as due to law firms setting up shared service centres.

  • Paying someone more does not increase retention: There is no correlation between yearly salary increases and attrition rates in business services.

After the successful pilot, the two companies are rolling out this survey to the rest of the legal community. In this context, they are holding three workshops in September 2019 - on the 10th, 12th and 17th in Central London. There will also be an online webinar about it.

Anyone interested is welcome to join - more info here.

The first event is sold out, but you can email Deborah at to see if extra spots can be opened.