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The Importance of Putting the "Human"​ Back into Human Resources in Law Firms

Law firms are known for their highly emotional and competitive environments, driven by ambition, envy, fear, and more. The success of a law firm heavily relies on its human capital, yet the individuals who make up that capital are often not treated as humans, with their own unique personal and professional challenges and needs. Human Resources (HR) departments have a critical role to play in addressing this issue, as the head of HR plays a vital and strategic role in the overall management and leadership of the business.

The tradtional 'rational and transactional' approach to HR management

The role of HR in law firms has evolved over time, becoming more rational, evidence-based, and transactional with the increased use of internal data and measurements. However, this approach often leads to a lack of empathy and emotional intelligence, and an over-reliance on rules, processes, and systems that are not always fit for purpose. As a result, HR can become more administrative, concerned with planning targets, economic benefits, and value for money, rather than focusing on the health, wellbeing, and development of its staff.

The problem with a purely rational approach to management is that it ignores the emotional world of subjective experience, which is a critical aspect of the human experience. HR departments that focus too much on consistency, fairness, and transparency may become arid and sterile, leading to detachment and declining trust. Consistency does not always guarantee the fairest response, as people have vastly different experiences and levels of agency within the organization.

A 'relational' approach based on accountability and humanity

To address these issues, HR departments must focus on building personal relationships with their staff, understanding their motivations, desires, and choices. Empathy and genuine closeness are more likely to build shared understanding and foster a sense of mutuality. This requires a shift away from the "command and control" hierarchies of law firms and towards a more relational approach, where line managers are trained to build relationships and trust, and encouraged to rely less on hierarchy and more on personal autonomy.

However, balancing accountability and humanity can be a challenging task. HR departments must find ways to hold staff accountable while remaining empathetic and emotionally intelligent. This requires a shift in focus from measurement, efficiency, and effectiveness to giving the emotional voice of staff a say, which will become a part of the organizational culture.

Recognizing and rewarding emotional intelligence within the organization is one way to promote a more human-centric approach to HR. Fostering and developing ways of measuring emotional intelligence in staff and services can legitimize the use of relational tools and approaches, which can lead to a more humane and empathetic work environment.

Lets create humane and empatheitc law firm work environments

The role of HR in law firms is critical, and the head of HR plays a strategic role in the overall management and leadership of the business. However, HR must not lose its relational and personal touch, as building personal relationships with staff is essential for creating a humane and empathetic work environment. By recognizing and rewarding emotional intelligence, and fostering a more relational approach to management, HR can put the "human" back into human resources and create a more successful and satisfying work environment for all.


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