Herbert Smith Freehills hires workforce strategy head from PwC for new role

Firm says appointment reflects ‘highly competitive talent market and unprecedented external disruption and uncertainty’

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has hired a senior executive from PwC to take up a new role overseeing its workforce strategy.

Helen Hopkin is to become the director of global workforce strategy and implementation at HSF, emulating the role she has been performing at PwC UK for the last six years leading a 350-strong team as human capital leader - head of workforce strategy.

HSF believes it is the one of the first – if not the first – law firms to invest in such a position, which recognises the challenges faced by businesses in the face of changing working practices and the development of new technologies, including AI and robotic process automation.

While workforce planning is often associated with large multinational companies and public bodies such as the UK’s National Health Service, digitalisation and the impact of Covid-19 has pushed it up boardroom agendas.

HSF’s chief HR officer, Helen Anthony, said: "How we live and work continues to shift in ways that we would never have predicted two years ago. Like most organisations, this is set against a backdrop of a highly competitive talent market and unprecedented external disruption and uncertainty… Having a committed workforce strategy is central to our ability to continue meeting our clients' needs."

A survey published by Thomson Reuters and Georgetown Law’s Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession last year found that while US law firm leaders were optimistic about client demand and profits, many were showing a higher degree of concern over staffing and personnel issues.

The 2021 Law Firm Business Leaders Report found that more than half of firms (51%) viewed acquiring and retaining talent as a high risk to future profitability. 

These fears are also reflected in the Q1 2022 Thomson Reuters Law Firm Financial Index which recorded its lowest score since Q3 2009 due to ‘the the impact of rapidly growing expenses, especially around hiring and retention’ despite the fact legal demand and rates remain ‘in positive territory’.

Meanwhile, a survey of 912 organisations in 33 countries across 13 industries by PwC found that just 22% of the respondents always conducted workforce planning. 

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