Charlie Keeling is well established as a senior level leader in the professional services world. He’s climbed a long ladder from his first job as a 16-year-old Commercial Apprentice at Creda. Three years later, he was a qualified accountant; and at 26 years old, he became the FD for Russell Hobbs.
He became a Partner at Price Waterhouse in 1989 – one of only a handful of Partners without a university degree. “It’s never held me back in my career”, he says. Since joining the legal sector in 2008, first with Field Fisher Waterhouse and then with Clyde & Co, he has recognised the need and opportunities to change HR practices in the sector.
Here Charlie gives us 106 seconds on HR and the legal sector. And in typical Keeling style, he doesn’t pull any punches…
1) What are the big changes you see in the legal sector right now? And how can a Global HRD best respond to them?
Globalisation – we need to ensure that we have a good team in place; great HR leaders in each major region (for us that is Europe, Middle East & Africa, North America and Asia Pacific), able to stand toe-to-toe with the Partners they support
Alternative business structures – traditional firms need to adapt and change to the new business models entering the legal sector, with totally different staffing structures.
Pressure on margins – we need to convince our staff, particularly the senior ones that there is no entitlement to an annual salary increase or bonus; they have to be earned! Pay for performance is the way forward.
2) How is HR making a contribution to the bottom line of Clyde & Co?
Strong management of the annual salary review; ensuring bonus schemes evolve and adapt to changing market situations; moving away from a one size fits all approach to reward; and putting in place more cost-effective staffing structures to ensure work is pushed down to the lowest level possible.
3) Do you see unique opportunities for influence in your role?
Since the recession HR has come to the front of the agenda rather than being consistently at the back of it! Our role in restructuring and redundancy initiatives took a great burden away from partners who were ill-equipped and (literally) frightened to deal with them. That now means we have a stronger platform of influence to build from and we must ensure we don’t allow ourselves to drift back into the long grass!
4) What have been the biggest changes in HR and the legal sector in the last few years?
Redundancy and restructuring – most lawyers believe they’re entitled to a job for life. We’re managing reward strategies away from the PQE approach (a rise because you’re a year older), to a competency-based approach (a rise because you’ve made yourself more valuable to the firm).
5) What are the key challenges for Partnership businesses?
Shrinking margins mean maintaining high levels of profitability is more difficult. We need to move Partner reward focus away from how profits are distributed (“he’s got more than me!”) to how they are generated (“we’ve all done better’).
Traditional Partnerships are resistant to different business structures – trying to integrate them into a more corporate model is a challenge.
It’s also difficult to transition older Partners out of the firm. The majority want to work until they die and with no retirement age they could be allowed to!
6) Wave a magic wand. What’s different?
I’ve retired early and it’s somebody else’s problem! But seriously, I’d like to see:
– The current generation of “old fart” Partners have retired earlier and suddenly change becomes easier
– Legal sector Partners begin to realise that they don’t necessarily know everything and they begin to know what they don’t know
– HR has a seat at the Board or Executive Committee
Our thanks to Charlie. If you’ve got 106 seconds to spare – and something interesting to say – please do get in touch.