A Chat With Hogan Lovells CHRO Allison Friend

In this monthly series, legal recruiting experts Amanda Brady and Amy Mallow from Major, Lindsey & Africa interview law firm management from top Am Law 200 firms about how they are navigating an increasingly competitive business environment. Discussions delve into how these key management roles are changing and introduce the people who aspire to improve and advance the business of law.

Next in this series is a conversation with Allison Friend, chief human resources officer for Hogan Lovells LLP. Allison Friend began her career as an employment lawyer before going in-house at Liberty Mutual Insurance. At Liberty Mutual, Allison was named head of HR, closing the door on her legal career. However, Goodwin Procter LLP called her for help creating a CHRO role there, which she accepted and held for several years before moving to a middle market firm, Blank Rome LLP. In December 2014, Allison made her move to Hogan to help integrate and modernize their approach to talent management.

Q: Can you describe one of your greatest accomplishments in your current role?

A: We are currently taking a completely new approach to how we handle feedback and reviews as a firm. It started when I first joined Hogan and traveled around the Americas to collect feedback about the firm, what was going on and what people thought. I very clearly heard that the review system was not working. It was a confusing process that made it hard for people to get constructive feedback. It ran counter to what our firm values: straight talk with one another.

With the help of a design thinking firm IDEO, we came up with a new approach that we called Pathways, which is focused on providing regular feedback year-round, not just once-a-year. It took one year from the start of the project to the launch of Pathways. During that time, we convinced firm management that it warranted our attention, required an innovative approach and would benefit from a partnership with a creative organization to make it happen. It has now been implemented in all 49 offices and people have embraced it. I believe it will have an impact on not only the culture of the firm, but the people who are here.

Q: How has your role evolved since you joined? What has been most surprising to you?

A: The role continues to evolve into a strategic partnership with the firm’s other leadership. Instead of separating our lawyers from our business services, we have integrated the two into a united organization. Now, everyone at the firm is considered essential to making it strong and serving our clients. I believe more law firms are starting to understand that it is important to make sure all these elements are connected — as opposed to having separate people handle separate populations.

The most surprising thing to me is the integration of HR with operations, because my team handles anything that affects people. Ultimately, we find ourselves getting into areas that are outside of true HR, and I find myself working a lot with the operations folks and thinking about operational issues as much as I do people issues.

People are involved in every aspect of the firm, so the people function must work closely with all other functions. If something happens in IT, it affects all team members’ ability to do their work. My team handles anything that affects people. Ultimately, we find ourselves getting into areas that are outside of true HR, and I find myself working a lot with the operations folks and thinking about operational issues as much as I do people issues.

Q: What aspect of this role have you found most challenging?

A: The real challenge is seeing how multiple generations work together. A lot of partners and senior lawyers came into the profession and started practicing when I did or before I did, and the way in which we practiced law was dramatically different than the way it is practiced today. Technology has changed. The legal environment has changed. The expectations of what a lawyer needs to provide to their clients has changed. As we continue to innovate and change how we approach our work, we have to make sure we're thinking through all those lenses to get everyone to the right place. It's a challenge.

Q: What’s the single most important change you would make to advance talent development in the legal profession?

A: I would change two things: the first is to measure more. I need better metric support to show trends that would help me formulate ideas about where we should go and why, and start showing better ROI. We always talk about being connected to the business, but we don’t show that as much as we should. We need more of that skill set within our ranks.

Second, leaders in business services need to do a better job building relationships with partner leaders and showing their value. Rather than waiting for permission to do their jobs, leaders in business services should educate and enlighten partner leaders about the different things they should be thinking about and considering and how they might approach it. That’s the best way to make changes happen.

Q: If you weren’t in law firm management, what career would you have?

A: I would love to run some kind of nonprofit that works with children. My whole career I have worked with different organizations, and I really enjoy being part of organizations where I feel like I’m making a difference somewhere. When I retire, however, I'm moving to California to work in a wine tasting room. Everyone who comes in is happy. So, they'll be happy and I can serve wine all day. That’s not a bad deal.

Q: What attracted you to the legal industry?

I love working with really smart, high-level professionals who are creative thinkers. They challenge me — and I like that. Unlike other industries, the legal industry has been slower to change because it hasn’t had to. So when I look at the legal industry, I see such opportunity to innovate and create. It's an industry where there's so much opportunity to do really interesting things with smart people. It allows me to be creative, and that makes it a fun industry in which to work.

This article was originally featured on Law360 on February 15, 2018.

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