Transforming HR at an innovative legal practice

Noted as a regional heavyweight, BPE is located in the heart of the historic spa town of Cheltenham, where the expert legal teams help businesses and individuals; both locally and nationally.

Recognised for its friendly service and clear, honest advice one client notes, “They tell us what to do, when we don’t know”. Offering a range of legal services – city expertise without the city price tag – the firm has a roster of longstanding and enviable clients including Superdry, Boultbee Brooks, Green Gourmet, Partners & and Weird Fish among many others.

BPE offers a range of legal services including employment law, residential property, commercial, litigation, family, private client, technology and corporate. The firm has grown rapidly since 2010 to over 117 full time employees: capitalising on their agile approach to client service and harnessing technology and smarter ways of working to meet their clients’ exacting needs in a changing business world.

However, despite the business enjoying continued success and growth, the HR technology had failed to keep pace. A lack of modern HR software was causing the HR team to become buried in day-to-day administration and paperwork, with no time to focus on more strategic operations.

Something had to change– and that’s where Cezanne HR’s software came in. We had a chat with Bethany Hamilton, HR Adviser at BPE Solicitors, to discover the impact Cezanne HR has had on both their HR team, and the wider BPE business.

Tell us a little about yourself and your role with BPE Solicitors

I joined BPE Solicitors about three and a half years ago as an HR administrator. That was after I’d finished my law degree and realised once I’d completed the studies for employment law –I really wanted to work in HR.

I chose HR because it would be a great opportunity to work on the more ‘human’ side of things; so, once I’d completed my studies and degree, I worked for a short time in recruitment to get some experience, and used that to work my way to where I am now.

We are a team of three in HR; two of us work full-time with a part time administrator who works 3 days per week. Between us, we proactively look after the needs of 117 people. It’s a small team with a huge workload, juggling multiple requests and projects on a day-to-day basis.

Are there any unique HR challenges that come from working within the legal industry?

Absolutely, it is a high-pressure environment with high performing individuals. Our teams work on time critical projects, often with challenging deadlines and it is key to understand this as well as the rather unique partnership culture.

For us, one of the main challenges in a law firm is actioning change that is not business critical. With demanding workloads some of the HR processes had remained untouched.

When you set out to try and change and improve something internally – such as performance or absence management processes, for example – it can be quite the shock to the system.

What were issues were BPE experiencing that brought you to investing in a new HR software solution?

The main issue was the old HR system I inherited was a legacy product. It was so basic that it didn’t even have a search function!

Our previous HR system did the absolute basics, such as logging new starter and leaver info and holidays, but that was about it… oh, and everything was manual!

I remember one time being sat on my living room floor at 9pm on a Friday night, surrounded by about 150 holiday forms, trying to book them all manually. It got to a point where staff started petitioning us because they wanted to enter their own holidays. I think that was certainly a catalyst for investing in a new system, but the real light bulb moment was when we had what I would consider a ‘new age’ of partners join the firm.

They wanted to take more ownership and do things like book and manage their own holidays themselves. They didn’t want to have to call us every time they wanted to book some time off, or to find out how much holiday they had remaining for the year.

It was also the case that we [HR] started to become more strategic as a function. This meant we wanted to get access to more data to help streamline and enhance our HR processes, but we just didn’t have the system to support that.

How has Cezanne HR helped your team?

We now keep getting positive comments from the management board saying things like “I can’t believe how much strategy you’re doing!” and it’s great! We have so much more time now and the Cezanne HR system is enabling us to deliver important strategic things – as well as the usual day-to-day stuff.

What modules do you have with Cezanne HR?

We started off with the core People Management module and Absence Management. We’ve since added Performance Management and Onboarding & Lifecycle.

Did you look at any other software solutions on the market?

Yes, we originally looked at three; these included the latest Sage HR product Bright HR was another, and Cezanne HR was the third.

How has the Cezanne HR Onboarding module helped with welcoming new starters to the firm?

Cezanne HR’s Onboarding module has saved us so much time. When somebody new starts, it is very easy and straightforward – you can just setup the checklists and away you go. I love the checklists – they’ve been revolutionary!

Before Cezanne HR, we found that within the HR team there was duplication of effort. Or worst case, nobody had requested a candidate’s references or other important new starter documentation… and the new employee was due to start any minute.

However, now we can build a checklist, assign the tasks to people and place reminders – this has been revolutionary for us. It also adds that extra layer of accountability and transparency. It is clear where the gaps are, who’s doing things and who’s not – we never had that kind of visibility before.

With Cezanne HR, everything is much more professional and streamlined when we on-board new joiners. It’s also the case that behind the scenes, successful onboarding needs to connect different business functions. Not all onboarding is done by HR – there are things that facilities, IT and payroll do as well.

Being able to make sure that all those functions are connecting in the right way means we’re not having to constantly chase for things to be done. We can tailor the checklists to cover everything we need to do. If our processes changes, we simply adjust the checklists – it’s genuinely brilliant.

How has the Cezanne HR Absence module helped when it comes to managing staff absences effectively?

The Cezanne HR system has helped make it so much easier for us to capture staff absences –and we’re getting a much better ‘real time’ look. We’re now able to answer important questions, like ‘who’s off?’ ‘Why are they off?’ ‘Is there a trend?’ And also, it’s now much easier to manage staff sicknesses: especially with the automatic email notifications.

It’s not just the sickness absence management it’s helped with, though. The ability to go onto Cezanne HR and look at who’s had holiday or how much holiday has been taken across the entire organisation is very useful for planning and tracking.

Additionally, this employee/team absence info is useful when considering the monthly billing data. If there’s been a month where fees are particularly low, it is easy to identify if it has been a heavy holiday month, or a lot of illness.

Also, as a law firm, it helps us with logistics. Line managers can project and plan resource and capacity in their teams, identifying who’s available to do the work. We can now better forecast when people will take time off and plan workloads accordingly. It really gives us complete control of absences and provides the data to back-up our decision making.

How has Cezanne HR helped support performance management processes within the firm?

We launched our first appraisal using the Performance module last month, and it has bolstered the number of completed reviews! Before Cezanne HR, all our appraisals were paper-based and the approach of team leaders was inconsistent. Some people hadn’t had an appraisal for a while.

Cezanne HR’s Performance module has given us complete visibility over our performance management processes. Plus, I’ve never seen so many appraisals done so quickly, it’s been great.

Are there any other features within the system you find particularly useful?

What I love about Cezanne HR is that you can add one module at a time. So, when we first implemented the core People Management module and Absence Management, we just got our employees used to doing simple things, like adding their holidays or update their personal details.

That was because they weren’t initially used to doing everything themselves. It helped make the rollout across the business very smooth.

Would you recommend Cezanne HR to others?

Yes, absolutely. I think it makes us look professional as a team. It automates a lot of the HR admin burden that generally would kind of just sit there or be forgotten about – I just think we couldn’t be without it now; so yes, I love it.