Kevan Skelton, Global Recruiting & Director, Human Resources, EME, at Reed Smith has advice for those considering joining the legal profession: ‘Build strong relationships, deliver through influence, use your listening skills, be resilient, practical and ever ready to find a way to convert strategy into deliverable bite-size chunks that maximise the benefits to lawyers but without taking up lots of their time.’
Sound tough? Well, there are plenty of rewards too, not least, says Skelton, a hugely rewarding role, working with incredibly bright, friendly people, on projects that deliver impact and lasting change. Such has been his experience at Reed Smith, at he has overseen HR evolve from being a quite reactive function, he says, to one that is forward thinking and focused on the long-term development of talent.
Skelton was already familiar with a partnership environment having come to law from a professional services background. He spent over four years working as an HR manager with Deloitte, before joining executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, where he spent over six years , first as HR Director and then Vice President, Global Human Resources.
When he joined the legal sector with Reed Smith in April 2012, he noticed the similarities more than the differences. ‘Many of the ways it worked were similar, in that owners were driving the business and had much greater power than execs in corporates,’ he says. ‘Law can be a slightly conservative sector, and it can be hard to move into law without professional services experience. But my background meant it worked well for me.’
Not only that, but coming from outside of legal gave him some advantages, thinks Skelton, not least experience working with clients across a huge number of sectors. He brought with him too considerable international experience, having lived in Europe, the USA, Australia and Asia. These were good foundations for the international remit at Reed Smith.
The recruitment itself took two to three months, time that proved useful for building relationships. ‘You have to meet a lot of people and you get the chance to find out whether you can really work with each other,’ he says. By the time he joined, he felt he’d already made enough connections to accelerate the induction process. It also helped, he says, that the senior leadership team were hugely supportive and helped him connect with partners: ‘It’s important to make a good impression – partners are ambitious and demanding and they have to be able to see they can work with you.’
His team keeps him busy too – with HR & recruitment team members based in Europe, Asia and the USA. So he balances his time between organisational work and looking after his function’s developmental needs. ‘It’s incredibly important that I build the reputation of my team and our long-term strategy in the firm,’ he says. He is proud that in his time, he has seen the firm become more forward looking in terms of talent management, attracting high calibre lawyers, and working better at partnering with recruiters as well as managing their own direct recruitment. And he is delighted to see the firm now attracting back individuals who had left.
At a time when talent development is key to law firm success, Skelton knows he plays a pivotal role in law – not just in improving recruitment processes, but in building a reputation for attracting and retaining the best. With the right HR professionals, law firms can stand out from the pack.