Riverview Law’s approach to recruitment prompted a great deal of attention and comment last week. Chief Karl Chapman outlines what it really means in practice.

I should be fired if we’re still recruiting a lot of senior lawyers in five to seven years

In the next five to seven years it will be a great disappointment if Riverview Law is still recruiting many senior lawyers.

Other than in exceptional circumstances, relating either to the need to have a specific high-level technical or sector expertise or because our growth rates are so strong that our vacancies outpace our internal talent pool, we will be doing everything we can to promote internally and to back-fill at junior levels.

Our future leaders are to be found in our business

Today 43% of Riverview’s team are qualified lawyers. Their experience ranges from newly qualified through to those who have been GCs at large businesses and who have over 20 years’ experience. Our people have experience in-house and with law firms of all sizes from regional firms to the magic circle. Another 23% of the team are paralegals.

Overall, 59% of the team are women. Over the last two years we have, as you’d expect with a new business, recruited a lot of senior personnel. In the next two years we will recruit additional senior personnel as we continue to grow significantly.

However if we, the Riverview Law management team, have done our job properly in the next five to seven years we should not need to recruit many senior lawyers or other senior staff. If we recruit (and have recruited!), induct and develop our people properly, it is from this rich and ‘Riverview Ready’ pool of talent that our future leaders and senior managers will come.

This is why we have a very simple recruitment rule. No external vacancy is advertised without first considering whether the role can be filled internally. If it can be filled internally it will be and the role vacated will be back-filled. We promote our people and we replace them with junior people who in time will be candidates for promotion as they demonstrate both their abilities and their fit with our culture and values.

This cultural fit is critical and its importance cannot be stressed enough. You can have the best people, processes and systems in the world but if these are not underpinned by the right culture a business will not fulfil its potential and it will not be sustainable. This is why we have such a focus on our ‘Moments of Truth’ programme and our ‘Legal input. Business output.’ strapline. Ensuring cultural fit is another reason why it makes sound business sense to follow a ‘grow-our-own’ strategy.  

In our customers’ interests

The logic behind the above strategy is not radical or revolutionary. Like much in Riverview Law it reflects the deployment of proven and common sense business principles from other sectors.

It’s a philosophy that comes from building businesses that are great places to work, that deliver excellent and high-quality services to customers and that provide clear career prospects and development paths for team members – whether, for example, they are IT developers, finance staff, client managers, paralegals or lawyers. It’s a philosophy focused on building long-term sustainability for all our stakeholders from customers to team members.

If you have a business like ours which is predicated on long-term contracts with blue chip customers and high contract renewal rates, you know that you don’t achieve high renewal rates unless you have talented people, delivering quality services with low staff turnover. Which is why, with our fixed-price model, our lawyers have no billable hours targets and a better work-life balance. In this context having an objective of not recruiting senior lawyers in five to seven years makes sound business sense.

Indeed, it’s in the interests of our customers, our people and our shareholders that we grow-our-own talent and future leaders. This strategy drives consistency, quality and sustainability. It provides customers with confidence to contract with us on a long-term basis. As a business model ‘grow-your-own’ makes far more sense than lateral hires. Lateral hires is a ‘growth strategy’ that highlights the flaws in the traditional law firm model.

We’re interested in what our recruits can add to Riverview not what following they may or may not have. Why would we subject ourselves to the risks and high costs of lateral hires when we can adopt a more effective and lower risk ‘grow-your-own’ strategy?

Young people

In parallel with recruiting more senior people in the next two years we are strongly committed to young people. This is why we will be offering training contracts. This is why we’re running apprenticeship programmes. We are very happy to recruit the right people with the right attitude from school, college, university, their first job… .

Yes, for all the reasons stated above, it makes sound business sense to do this. But it is also the right thing to do. It is sad that there is an over-supply of young people with legal qualifications. The legal training and development infrastructure has largely failed a generation.

Pleasingly things are changing. As an alternative route into the law a young person can now avoid the expense of a degree and then law school. They can join from school or college and become a qualified lawyer by a similar age yet have no debt but much work experience. This will be a growing entry route and will widen access to individuals who would not typically have been able to pursue a legal career.

Making mistakes

Do we get our recruitment, induction and development processes right every time? Of course not. Do we have a lot to do? Yes. However, as a board we have a great commitment to growing our own people and giving them worthwhile and enjoyable careers whatever their roles and however they join us.

One of the biggest mistakes I can make as chief executive and our board can make as a team is not having a strategy to grow and develop our own talent. If I make that mistake I will resign before I am rightly fired!