We sat down with Michael Prapuolenis, Sidley’s Chief Human Resources Officer, to learn more about talent acquisition and how the firm is fostering a collaborative workplace for its lawyers and staff.
What differentiates Sidley from other larger firms with regard to talent acquisition?
People who want to build a successful career look for many things in an employer. What makes us attractive to experienced professionals is our platform, culture and stability. While most of our peers offer similar pay and working conditions, our global platform and collaborative culture have few competitors. And what can you say about Sidley being in business for more than 150 years? Pretty stable. Ultimately, many of the same things that attract lawyers to the firm also appeal to professional staff. It’s because Sidley, as a world-class firm, has a lot to offer. We provide employees in our various staff departments with opportunities to work on interesting projects in a fun, collegial environment. We are also a great place for young talent to hone their skills and take the next step up the career ladder, whether here or elsewhere.
The Chicago and New York offices are now undergoing substantial renovations. This follows recently completed renovations to the firm’s offices in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco and a new office build-out in Munich. How is Sidley keeping pace with the latest trends in successful workplace environments?
We are fortunate to be working with one of the world’s leading design firms on our office renovations. The firm’s managing partners, directors of administration and Executive Director Tim Bergen have been heavily involved in the collaboration, bouncing ideas off each other and the designers. Our continuing transition from paper-based to electronic systems and storage has allowed us to repurpose space and use it more efficiently. This also aligns with our commitment to environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility. With less space needed for storing documents, we can now build effective office layouts and create modern, collaborative working environments for our lawyers and staff. As an example, the Chicago office installed new business lounges with TVs and soft seating, allowing employees to step away from their workspaces and re-energize, socialize and/or collaborate. This workplace concept will likely be available in all our offices in some way.
You’ve held various administrative leadership roles throughout your career. What led you here?
My career path is made up exclusively of positions that required a lot of “people” contact. When I was recruited by Sidley, I knew they had a great reputation, particularly as a place that treats its people well, but I wasn’t sure I could fit in with a law firm’s culture. I thought of myself as a brash, young managerial type, someone a law firm would never want to hire. Despite those concerns, I came in and interviewed with Tim [Bergen], and we hit it off really well. I then met with several members of the firm’s Management Committee and was amazed by how open and honest they were about their expectations. Everyone I spoke with said something that meshed well with the firm’s reputation. They made me an offer, and I’ve been here 20 years this year.
Was it a challenge early on to get leadership to focus on administrative needs?
The firm has always focused on its staff as much as it has on its lawyers. It would be disingenuous of me to claim that I somehow convinced Sidley’s leadership to view our professional staff in a favorable light. When I first met with the firm’s management, especially Tim [Bergen], they were fully committed to bolstering the morale of staff and providing the necessary resources to enhance their career satisfaction and ongoing development. The firm has some of the most sophisticated support departments in the legal profession. We were one of the first law firms to harness the potential of data analytics, as well as to streamline an effective performance management process. We are also a leader in professional development, offering employees department- and role-specific training and management coaching programs. The list goes on.
Share an accomplishment of which you are most proud.
During my time here, I believe we have done a lot to make our lawyers’ workdays better: better support, better resources and better environments. In many ways this is due to the staff we have hired. We truly raised the bar in recruiting and retaining the best talent worldwide. Looking around at our staff departments, I see a diverse group of people, many of whom have advanced degrees, with strong industry knowledge specific to their roles. And everyone here is dedicated to doing their best work and delivering the highest level of service to our lawyers and their clients. Our administrative leadership team should be highly commended for its efforts in increasing the breadth and depth of experience of the firm’s professional staff. Tim [Bergen] has always stressed that the quality of our staff must match the quality of our lawyers. We have largely accomplished that objective.