The pros and cons of discussing your career with HR

“I don’t want to talk to HR about my career.” I hear this from lawyers all the time.

“I don’t want to talk to HR about my career.”

I hear this from lawyers all the time. They’re worried that the conversation will be reported to partners and assumptions made about their commitment and/or resilience. In some cases, lawyers who want to discuss their promotion prospects don’t want to come across as pushy or with ideas above their station.

As a lawyer and a HR professional, I can see the problem from both sides.

On the one hand...

HR will (should) know what the process and timetable is for nominating associates for promotion. Mind you, some are more involved in such discussions than others.

They will know what format of flexible working requests have been granted and will be the voice of reason when a request is submitted for review by partners.

They may have a more strategic understanding of what is going on in the group and what requests are likely to succeed. Hopefully, they will be in regular discussion with the partners in their group and will have a good sense of what's on the partners' minds which may be useful to you or steer you in a more productive direction.

And they do genuinely care about lawyers’ well-being.

On the other…

HR teams are often thinly stretched and may not have the time or resource to offer the support you need. Even those who are trained as coaches find it hard to switch to coaching mode when talking to ‘clients’. HR managers have expressed their frustration to me that they don't have the time to follow up with lawyers, let alone practise their coaching skills.

HR professionals in law firms may be seen as anywhere from a necessary evil to do all the unpleasant people jobs, all the way to being a truly respected business partner who makes executive decisions. So, much will on the culture at your firm and in individual team, and you'll need to suss this out for yourself.

And the clincher for many is that HR has a duty to act when they become aware of problems, such as bullying, discrimination, or someone being on the verge of burn-out. This split personality between being there for employees and being responsible for monitoring and protecting the firm's position when it comes to risk management is a very difficult balance to strike for HR professionals.

So, what to do?

First, I would recommend being very clear on what you need to achieve success. Information? Coaching? Advice? A sounding-board? Then ask yourself where you are most likely to find this. Is the information published on your firm’s intranet? I have found some arcane information lurking in the most unlikely places on intranets.

Then, are you catastrophising the risks? Will you really shoot yourself in the foot by speaking to HR? If you still believe you will, is there an intermediary who can ask the question on your behalf? Who else can you find out from if you don’t trust HR? Another lawyer who operates a flexible working pattern? Someone who has just been promoted/seconded?

And what about talking over your concerns with your HR rep? You can ask in an objective manner e.g. where can I find out about the process and timing for promoting to senior associate, counsel, partner? What are the criteria for being seconded to an overseas office/client? How will I know if I’m on track for my pqe?

Finally, if you really don’t want to trust your ambitions to HR, think about getting a mentor or a coach. It may be that you need to work on your self-belief so that you can ask for your next career move with confidence.

If that’s you, you know where to find me.

Paula McMullan

The Lawyers Coach

Categories: : Career planning