Saul Ewing’s new talent director talks about remote work and wage wars

The logo of the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr at their offices in Philadelphia, PA on June 10, 2021. REUTERS / Andrew Kelly

  • Chandra Kilgriff is the first to occupy the newly created position
  • With advocates eager for flexibility, “We must determine what the ideal looks like after the pandemic”

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(Reuters) – Law firms are grappling with office return policies, vaccine warrants, a partner wage war and a highly competitive sideways market. In this context, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr added the role of Director of Talent to its management team, hiring Chandra Kilgriff away from Robins Kaplan, where she was Director of Talent and Diversity.

Minneapolis-based Kilgriff, who reports directly to executives at Saul Ewing, oversees recruitment, retention, professional development, and diversity and inclusion efforts at the firm, which has 366 attorneys.

She spoke to Reuters about the scorching sideline hiring scene, what the race to raise associate wages means for companies in smaller markets, and how companies can improve their recruiting and the retention of various lawyers.

The conversation below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

REUTERS: Why do you think Saul Ewing created this role?

KILGRIFF: I think right now it’s a very pivotal moment in the profession. Businesses are all grappling with the question, “What does a post-pandemic world look like?” The company is very interested in aligning our human resources and talent management functions to meet the needs of the business as we operate in this hybrid world.

REUTERS: What is Saul Ewing doing right now, in terms of remote work?

KILGRIFF: Our offices are all open to people who want to come in, but there are a lot of people still working remotely. We don’t force anyone into the office, other than a small team. We are constantly reviewing what is going on and evaluating national and local guidelines. But we have a large percentage of our people who are still mostly remote.

REUTERS: Has this shift to telecommuting changed the recruiting game?

KILGRIFF: I think candidates and current employees are increasingly looking for flexibility. We have seen that it can work. Now we need to figure out what the ideal looks like after the pandemic. What have we missed through remote working that we want to bring back? And what don’t we need to bring back because we’ve developed a better process or a better way of doing things? We are constantly evaluating what is going on in the industry. We will have to continue to adapt.

REUTERS: What are some elements of the traditional work structure that you think could be abandoned?

KILGRIFF: I think there’s a lot of work that can be done remotely – when you’re not interacting with people, when you’re writing a brief, or working with your head down. I think this is easily done outside of the office. Inside the office, people are missing out on the connections and some of the training opportunities. But connections can also be made remotely. It’s just about finding the right balance.

REUTERS: We’ve seen a lot of companies increase starting salaries for associates to $ 205,000 this summer. Saul Ewing has a starting associate’s salary of $ 170,000. Does this put the business at a disadvantage?

KILGRIFF: We regularly review our salary structure to make sure we can attract and retain talented associates. We also have a lot to sell in terms of our culture, our customers and our work. We attract people who see that we are committed to their career development, training and excellence in our practice.

REUTERS: If money isn’t the main motivation for associates, what do you think?

KILGRIFF: I think associates and employees in general often look for empowerment in their jobs, career paths and growth, mentors and great people around them who support them, and an inclusive culture and welcoming.

REUTERS: Diversity has proven to be a difficult problem for large law firms. What are the top things firms can do to improve the recruitment and retention of diverse lawyers?

KILGRIFF: I think it’s really important to embed the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion into all of the company’s systems, and not make it an isolated function that works in silos. We need to create a more formalized structure in areas such as recruiting, workflow and promotions to minimize the impact of bias.

One of my goals is to make sure leaders have inclusive leadership skills. We know that the people that associates work with directly have the greatest impact on their careers. We need to make sure that everyone who is able to lead a team understands what it means to lead a diverse and inclusive team.

Read more:

See you in November? Delta’s surge prompts law firms to review return plans

Big Law’s hybrid future will hinge on the honor system, for now

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