By Parul Patel
Can you imagine an athlete being selected to represent us at the Olympics because they had five years of training under their belt? It would be absurd, yet why is it that in the legal profession lawyers are frequently promoted or evaluated based on their duration of service rather than performance?
In this blog I’m going to share team selection insights from Olympic athletes (who are also at different stages of their legal careers) so that you can blaze a new trail that supports the demand for transformation when it comes to recruiting or promoting lawyers. You can hear our conversation on the Water+Air podcast.
Josh: “You could build up collateral as a player and then buy yourself a bit more time on the [football] team if you had two or three good seasons but nobody was ever given a free ride. In the legal profession you should be rewarded for being able to reach the levels or stages that have been set. There has to be better markers than ‘time served’ because some people can reach those quicker than others and deserve to be rewarded for that.”
Speaker, people performance expert and double Olympic champion (rower) Mark Hunter MBE agrees that it’d be wise for ability to outweigh any other metric.
Mark: “You can't just hand something to someone; that sets the wrong culture in that environment. You have to give people a chance to prove themselves.
In rowing you have to go through the same selection process every year to qualify for the boat or the Olympic Games. You still had to do every assessment and prove that you were up to the standard needed to be part of the team. There was never a chance to just sit there and tick down the days knowing you’d get to go; you were continuously assessed and monitored.”
Josh and Mark have both highlighted why “time-served” doesn’t provide a free ticket to selection in the world of sport, so why do we still see this as a common practice in the legal world?
Howard Stupp, former Head of Legal and Special Adviser to the International Olympic Committee and four-time Canadian National Wrestling Champion is passionate about creating equity and allocating opportunity to the lawyers who’ve shown what they’re capable of.
Howard: “I really tried to treat all my lawyers fairly. Obviously, some are stronger than others, but I gave them all respect; the stronger lawyers perhaps got some more interesting files to work on, but everyone was important.
Sometimes I even had to ask myself the question, do I get rid of this lawyer? Rightly or wrongly, if the lawyer was giving their best efforts or serious efforts I kept them. But, if the lawyer was doing things that I thought was in bad faith or went against team togetherness that’s a reason to get rid of them (even if it's your top lawyer).
Look at it this way, if your best athlete doesn't respect the rules he has to be punished because, if not, that promotes the opposite of togetherness and you’ll end up with resentment within the team.
People who work better get a bit more merit, but rules have to apply to everyone otherwise it undoes the team’s togetherness.
At one point we had to divide offices and I had to make sure that everyone on the same level felt treated equally although perhaps the ones who were better got first choice, but I really had to do it in a way where everyone felt that they were treated fairly and with respect, otherwise that undoes the team togetherness.”
From my earlier conversations with our Olympic athletes and sporting professionals (check out my previous blogs on mastering inclusivity and performance, optimising your legal team, and giving and receiving feedback), it’s become clear that some experiences can help you develop resilience, determination, and the courage to get back up when you hit rock bottom. However, some people might develop those traits within one or two years depending on what happens within that time frame, but another lawyer may well have five years’ experience but lacked the environment needed to develop their abilities.
How much weight do you place on post-qualified experience (PQE) in your recruitment and promotion policies? How might you improve the criteria for recruitment and promotion? How might a change in policy have impacted the early years of your career? I’d love to know. Message me and share your thoughts.
I hope you’ve gained useful insights into what truly matters when it comes to recruitment or promotion; turning up at the office isn’t a good enough parameter, each candidate should be given the opportunity to show their capabilities irrespective of time served. If you’d welcome the opportunity to revolutionise your corner of the legal world, why not check out the training programmes I offer to take you and your teams further faster, without burning out?
Parul is an experienced international lawyer, demanding client, disruptive consultant and thought-provoking non-executive director and board advisor.
She's advised law firms and big global brands like Nike, Speedo and Manchester United, as well as supporting inner-city social change programmes, startups and scale-ups. Fuel+Move is born of her passion to improve interaction with the legal sector and achieve a better experience with better outcomes for its stakeholders.
Parul Patel can be found here: