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Alumni networks make sense

There have been numerous instances in recent times of employees taking to public forums and expressing less-than-glowing opinions about their former employers – and even in some cases going so far as to write a book about them. Views on working conditions are – let’s face it – fairly common in law firms. Bitter reports of super-competitive working environments and a rather biased view of what might have been a well-handled redundancy situation can all be blown right out of proportion when hurt feelings and wounded pride come into play.

However, unfortunately, once these opinions are out in the public domain – whether via social media, internet forums or the press – the reputational damage is done and they remain a digital record of the way the firm handles its staff. As hirings, firings and resignations are a normal part of any fully functioning law firm, how do you stop disgruntled employees damaging the brand with negative views?

Establishing – or putting more energy into – an alumni organisation may not be the most obvious option when it comes to handling disgruntled former employees. However, these organisations, which are set up to retain contact with staff who have left, can be a great weapon in the war against brand-damaging comments making their way into the public domain. Regular contact with former members of staff will make them feel a tie to the firm and introduce a feeling of loyalty that protects against negative comments being made.

Plus old grievances are more likely to be forgiven over the camaraderie of an alumni dinner or a fun event. Strong alumni networks also attract top talent – where it is obvious that a firm treats both current and previous employees with considerable respect, this is a draw to those who want to work for a firm that can demonstrate integrity and a non-disposable approach to its staff.

The other important point to remember with ex-employees is that you never really know where a former employee is going to end up. Someone who struggled at one firm, or simply didn’t fit it, may thrive at a different type of firm, or even working in-house. It is worth bearing in mind that the more positive networks the firm is part of, the better the opportunities for creating work openings in the future. This is particularly the case where an ex-employee has moved in-house and effectively become the client. A previous employee who is on good terms with the firm can become a powerful advocate for the business and an inside connection that can open up doors that might otherwise be closed.

All too often those who leave a firm are regarded as ‘defectors’ or ‘failures’ and the focus of the firm’s recruitment is firmly on reducing attrition rates, snapping up the best talent and training those within the firm, rather than maintaining links with former staff. However, mismanaging the process of staff leaving a firm can result in wasted opportunities that could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds – if not more.

For example, calculations made by the firm Latham & Watkins in the mid-1990s – and quoted in an article by Michael J Anderson for the Edge International website in 2007 – showed that around 50% of the firm’s then current business came either directly or indirectly from alums of the firm. With current recessionary pressures and many firms suffering from a drop in instructions and an increase in competition, it’s likely that these connections are more important now than they have ever been.

This blog first appeared in the Law Society Gazette on 17th April 2013

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