8 Insights into the Role of HR in Law Office Management

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Jacqui Coombe* Law offices occupy a special niche in the services industry, with stringent rules on confidentiality and standards. The legal industry tends to be more conservative and cautious. As such, it’s not surprising HR teams in law practices may face different norms and management structures. 

The HR function, however, can prove itself to be just as invaluable as those in other industries.

Below are 8 key practical insights, challenges, and considerations relating to HR’s role in law firms.

1. Specialised recruitment


Regardless of industry, one of HR’s main responsibilities is to hire the best talent. From administrative staff and paralegals to lawyers, explore ways to attract and retain your workforce. 

Refer to industry standards for remuneration, and consider how competitors are hiring; this may be through using recruitment agencies and holding careers stalls at law schools.

Some HR departments may have proactive strategies for marketing and branding their law office as an attractive place to work.

At the same time, HR abide by anti-discrimination and other relevant laws when hiring. Having a formal hiring policy based on these types of legal obligations as well as a commitment to diversity may be a great way to approach it.

The recruitment process itself, from interviews and checks to negotiating offers, may require research into industry best practice and some process redesign. 

Recruitment can take on a strategic dimension if your law office is expanding. HR’s role here can involve assisting with change management planning, creating internal communications to facilitate change, and creating and updating change management policies. 

2. Preserving confidentiality

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Confidentiality is a major consideration and potential source of risk for the legal industry.

When it comes to the HR department, the most important thing could be to communicate clear policies on confidentiality, privacy, and sensitive information. Clarify that cases and clients should never be discussed outside the office and provide guidelines on how to secure data if employees are working from home.

3. Benchmarks for performance

The HR function is likely to be responsible for performance reviews. They may be assisting with them or be tasked with overseeing them.

The key point to keep in mind is that within a legal practice, the benchmarks for performance may be quite different to those in other industries. 

Generally speaking, performance metrics should be linked to their impact on the firm’s success. Billable hours and business development may be among the benchmarks for the lawyers in the office. 

4. Addressing technological inertia

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Not surprisingly, the law industry is among the slowest industries to adopt new technology.

For innovative HR professionals, this can pose challenges if new software or potential software integrations can dramatically boost efficiency. 

HR teams need to find creative ways to address the issue of technological inertia, and this could involve persuading the partners to adopt new technologies by demonstrating how they drive higher employee productivity. 

5. Communicating policies

Part of HR’s responsibilities within law offices is communicating policies. One of the best ways to do this is with an employee handbook.

The handbook should cover all policies and procedures relating to retention and termination, including grounds for termination.

It should address compensation, promotion, conduct, sick days and leave, and performance reviews. It should cover conflict resolution procedures and disciplinary and grievance processes. 

Other guidelines you may wish to include include anti-discrimination policies, work schedules, confidentiality, emergency procedures, and data security.

Client relations, the use of technology, and how staff should handle media coverage may be some of the other things the employee handbook needs to clarify.

6. Staff engagement and development

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Investing in your talent through engagement and development initiatives helps your law office stay competitive. It can also help reduce the costs associated with high turnover while, at the same time, creating a more positive work environment. 

The role of HR here can be obtaining buy-in from the partners to build effective engagement and recognition programs.

These can include team-building activities, mentorship programs, benefits programs, and employee assistance programs that support mental health and general well-being. 

HR’s role in this area could also encompass helping develop fairer and more transparent compensation guidelines that are linked to employee evaluation programs. Employees who are compensated fairly can be more loyal, motivated, and engaged.

Finally, HR can also drive higher engagement by assisting with career development pathways with training and upskilling opportunities.

As research shows, employees with professional development opportunities are more engaged and have higher retention. 

7. Managing risks and compliance

HR’s role can include risk management and compliance. This can take the form of clarifying and ensuring employment conditions in the law firm comply with the latest employment laws, such as modern awards and other employment standards.

Other responsibilities include addressing, recording, and escalating performance issues, in case the employee becomes a disgruntled worker.

Assessing proposed terminations for unlawfulness and ensuring the path to a dismissal complies with legal requirements can also be HR’s responsibility, especially if senior lawyers and partners don’t necessarily specialise in employment law. 

8. Working with multiple business owners

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Most commonly, the HR team in a law office will be reporting to multiple business owners.

This is because law firms usually have a partnership structure. Additionally, the HR function may be overseeing administrative and IT staff as their direct reports and line managers.

This could require different skills that relate to people management as opposed to managing an HR team. 

Finally, administrative personnel are likely working with more than one lawyer while HR managers have direct responsibility for them. As such, HR teams may need to manage these reporting conflicts by better supporting and accommodating administrative staff. 


Given that employees are widely considered to be an organisation’s most vital asset, the HR department can play a central role in the firm’s success.

HR’s role encompasses specialized recruitment needs as well as developing and communicating policies, especially concerning confidentiality. HR is also responsible for staff performance management, engagement, and development. 

Author –

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Jacqueline Coombe is a professional business and personal development writer who has written on a range of topics from business, marketing and finance to travel and lifestyle. Jacqueline is also a Principal Consultant specialising in Search + Content Marketing at international digital marketing agency Web Profits.

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