How to prioritize wellbeing in the workplace (according to two top global law firms)

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We already know that the war on talent is fierce across most industries, none more so than in the legal industry. So how do law firms differentiate themselves as leaders in the wellbeing space to become workplaces of choice? 

Our co-founder, Jodi Geddes chatted to Joanne Elson, Senior Associate and Family Network Co-Chair at Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), and Nicole Williams, Counsel and Global Co-Head of Inclusion, Diversity, and Belonging at Ashurst, to unearth how they set themselves apart. 

All for one, one for all

As the lines between our personal and professional lives have become more blurred and the more traditional markers of diversity broaden, people are now expecting and wanting to bring their whole, authentic selves to work.  And it’s on workplaces to respond to this expectation by offering support and guidance for every employee – and it can’t just be a tick-box exercise. It’s got to be a combination of policies, perks, and the overall employee experience to encourage people to bring their true selves to work and to support their wellbeing through all of life’s ups and downs.

As Nicole Williams said, “You need to make sure that you create an environment where your people really feel that they belong.  It’s an ongoing journey that really requires you to bring everybody along with you….every single person has a critical role to play.”

Perks and policies

When it comes to what you provide, it’s all about being authentic, walking your talk, and backing up what you say with action.  Like Joanne Elson said, “People don’t like just lip service. They want to see the results, so pay attention to what it is you are saying… and make sure you revisit it on a frequent basis.” 

Here are just a few of the important initiatives and strategies that HSF and Ashurst offer to ensure the wellbeing of their people:

A Health and Wellbeing Hub

Both firms have a global hub that includes information, support, tools, and resources for people to access when they need to.  The hub covers areas like mental health, physical health, and occupational health, and acts as a portal for pointing people in the right direction and knowledge sharing. For both firms, Circle In is an important part of this hub.

“Circle In is such an excellent resource for this because it provides such great instructions, examples, and resources around some of the important issues,” Joanne said.

Nicole agrees, she said, “Circle In plays a really significant role.  It has such a wealth of information.”

Mental Health Champion Programs

This opt-in program at HSF is for people who want formal training to be able to support their teams and peers.  “If there are conversations which people need to have, and don’t quite know how to raise, they can go to a mental health champion who’s had that little bit of training and support for that initial conversation,” said Joanne.

A Mindful Business Charter

Charters like these help everyone in an organization to become better and smarter in how they use their time. This includes minimizing unnecessary meetings, streamlining communication, and considering how work is delegated.

“It provides a framework that allows teams to adjust to make sure we’re not having those burnout triggers,” Nicole said.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Even in a high-pressure industry like law, where long hours are more the norm, workplaces can offer flexible work arrangements and still see the same level of productivity.  Both firms have now introduced a 40:60 hybrid policy to really give people flexibility around how they work.  

For Nicole, having the flexibility allows the Ashurst team to do what works for them.  “I think that’s the core thing, giving them the options,” she said.

Connection and Collaboration

Both firms have had to think outside the box when it comes to nurturing opportunities for connection and collaboration that work well onsite and remotely, particularly for younger talent or recently qualified counsel who crave opportunities for collaboration.  HSF recognized the limitations that remote work creates when it comes to organic relationship building, so they developed a mentoring program to help foster those connections. 

A Wellbeing Fund

This monetary perk is where employees receive allocated funds to spend on something that helps them achieve balance, calm, and joy in their lives. This could be a gym membership, yoga classes, or even a mindfulness app.

“It’s funny how people don’t always look for the policies that we have in place. But sometimes, if you say you’ve got this cash to spend on something, suddenly, you know everyone’s interested, and that gets them onto the hub, and it gets them into the resources as well,” Joanne said.


Both firms also have best-in-show policies that showcase a genuine commitment to creating a supportive workplace where wellbeing is paramount. For example, at Ashurst, there’s a gender-neutral parental leave policy that includes 26 weeks of leave at full pay. It includes surrogacy, adoption, kinship care, and foster care, and is available to everyone. As Nicole said,” We know that if we create a more equal environment for people to take an equal role at home, that creates greater gender equity within the workplace as well.”

HSF has policies for fertility and neonatal issues to ensure their whole team is supported through their journey to parenthood.

Open lines of communication

For the team at HSF, it’s about creating an environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable at work.  They have a managing partner who gives a bi-weekly digest of what’s happening at the firm.  “She’ll always mention a little bit at the top about her family life. She has an autistic son, and you know what they’ve been doing, whether it’s just some holidays or whatever’s been going on, just to try and normalize those discussions,” Joanne said.

People leaders need support too

With COVID, global warming, the war in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, and uncertain economic times, the last few years have really taken their toll, so employees are naturally reaching out for more support at work than they may have in the past.  As Joanne says, “this is a really positive thing,” and a great sign of the impactful work proactive firms like HSF and Ashurst are doing. Still, it means organizations need to put structures in place to support their leaders too, so they know how to respond and feel supported themselves.

“You can’t just switch those things off when you come through the door of your workplace. And so our people leaders are dealing with that. But also our people leaders are trying to navigate that landscape from their own personal perspective, but also as leaders of their team,” Nicole said.

Catch up on the full conversation, ‘The global war on talent for law firms and how they differentiate to win’ here.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can support your employees, click here to talk to us today.

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