LFI Survey: Issues, Staff and Salaries

January 1, 2000

A wide-ranging survey of IT directors in law firms by LFI,the specialist professional services and financial services recruitmentconsultancy, has made a number of interesting and detailed findings.

While its conclusions about market trends, particularlythe likely increase in client access in the next year, are fascinating, wesuspect that our readers will find the salary survey results of specialfascination and therefore publish an extract dealing with that and themaintenance of the IT team. The full value can be obtained from the firstedition of the LFI publication, Resource, which is commended. Thatpublication is free and can be obtained from Robyn Cox on 0171 208 5800 or rcox@lfionline.comor can be viewed online at www.lfionline.com.

Chart 1

The IT Team

As technology has become more central to businessoperations, IT staff require a number of non-technical skills in addition totheir specific technical know-how. For this reason, most law firms seek torecruit from the top 5% of IT professionals.

The non-technical skills required of IT staff include:

  • Good communication skills, in order to train users and to persuade them of the benefits of using the technology to its full potential. The critical importance of interpersonal and communication skills for IT staff was illustrated by one firm interviewed, which asks all its IT candidates to deliver a presentation at the first interview stage in order to assess their communication skills – no matter what level the position.
  • Understanding of key business drivers, which helps them to convince users to market the benefits of the technology to their clients.
  • Diplomacy and an understanding of client-care principles, particularly where the IT staff need to meet directly with external clients, for example to understand their IT needs and interface with their systems.
  • Change management skills, in order to move the firm towards a technology-friendly culture.

As noted above, a higher IT-to-user staff ratio isassociated with greater success in selling the benefits of IT throughout thefirm. The majority of the firms we interviewed believe that their ratio is good,although the ratio varied between 2 and 4.6 IT staff per 100 users, asdemonstrated on Chart One. On average, law firms have 3.3 IT staff per 100users. This average increases for US firms, which employ 4 per 100 users. Ourresearch shows that the variation around these averages does not reflect thesize of the partnership. The research does show, however, that the firms with ahigher ratio also typically devote a higher proportion (5 – 7%) of theirturnover to the IT budget and generally have a more committed approach to IT.

Chart 2

Given that law firms are typically seeking top qualityIT staff, recruitment and retention are particularly critical issues. In oneexample, a law firm found that to recruit IT staff to a department locatedoutside London required a very carefully managed advertising campaign, based onan understanding of the personalities, motivation and objectives of each levelof IT personnel. Retention was greatly enhanced by this careful selectionprocess and because the location largely limited competition to the local area.

As for all personnel, a combination of factors isrequired to attract and retain the best staff, especially as motivation variesbetween individuals, at least in the relative importance of different factors.

Remuneration is always important. Chart Two summarisesthe average salaries for a range of IT positions in both Top 10 and medium-sizedlaw firms. Those firms which are finding salary the most important factor in thedecision to leave are often those few firms which continue to pay up to 40% lessthan the lucrative financial services sector.

Staff benefits are also a way in which law firms canoffer an attractive remuneration package. Of the firms we interviewed, aroundhalf have introduced or are committed to Year 2000 bonuses. Other benefitsinclude private health cover, pension and longer holidays. Each of thesebenefits adds considerably to the attractiveness of the total package and helpslaw firms compete against other industries’ offerings, such as bankingbenefits.

Those law firms which are paying the market rate findthat their staff become relatively more interested in career factors such as theresponsibility of the role, training and career progression prospects.

Career development and training are seen by 90% ofthose firms we interviewed as being essential for attracting and retaining ITstaff. Some firms have a structured career path for certain individuals. Othersmove team members around at regular intervals to increase their skill set. Manyalso provide external training for all their IT staff, such as Microsoft’sCertified Professional training.

Chart 3

Two other related and important factors in staffrecruitment and retention which were mentioned by the majority of firmsinterviewed are: the image of the firm and the culture of both the firm and theIT department. IT staff seek an enjoyable, team-playing culture in which theycan see progress for themselves as individuals and as a team, from both abusiness and personal perspective. They wish to feel valued, responsible,empowered and challenged. Two simple ways to add to employees’ feelings ofempowerment are: changing their job titles and/or increasing theirresponsibilities. Overall, sound team management is essential for creating agood work environment and retaining staff.

Lastly, but as Chart Three shows, the single mostimportant factor for IT staff recruitment and retention is the use ofleading-edge technology in the firm. For example, firms still using WordPerfectadmit that attracting and keeping all levels of staff can be difficult, unlessan upgrade is forthcoming, because staff are concerned that the ability to useWordPerfect is a less marketable skill than use of MS Word.

IT staff are also strongly motivated by the opportunityto work on interesting projects and the majority enjoy seeing a project throughfrom inception to completion.