Strength in people

The culture of innovative thinking at Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (ENS) offers a significant departure from ‘business as usual”.

Their eschewal of hierarchy to concentrate on fostering a teamwork approach sets them apart. This is evident in its ‘one firm” culture, an approach that is rooted in values that were workshopped by employees themselves and is the key to a cohesive team that puts the collective above the individual, demonstrating that the firm’s strength truly does lie in its employees.

Human resources executive Gary Hyde says that ‘added to the strength of teamwork is a performance culture embedded at all levels of the organisation. Even senior partners and department heads undergo annual performance-enhancement discussions that underpin each employee’s career path.”

Follow-ups are held to ensure that critical issues have been addressed and progress is assessed. ‘This really is a two-way discussion, rather than an appraisal,” says chief executive Piet Faber.

‘It’s built on trust, and our aim is to be helpful and constructive.” This is key as the transparent approach encourages employee buy-in.

The ongoing development of these highly skilled individuals is another priority, and ENS prides itself on being one of few law firms with its own in-house training department.

ENS’s values — collegiality, diversity, excellence, integrity, passion, social responsibility, teamwork and transformation — and the way in which they underpin every sphere in the organisation — is another key differentiator, contributing to the
firm’s distinctive spirit. Although ENS mostly employs lawyers, the firm’s workforce is surprising in its diversity.

As Faber points out: ‘We have chartered accountants practicing as tax consultants, forensics specialists, economists, IT experts, top-class chefs, information specialists, to name just a few — and, naturally, a range of roles in support functions from IT to HR.”

ENS’s remuneration packages are benchmarked at the upper end of the legal industry and the firm also offers an array of attractive benefits, from medical aid to pension, which are calculated on a total cost-tocompany basis.

The firm’s take on maternity benefits has set it apart from many industry players. Impressively, about 36% of the firm’s directors are female, a feat achieved through the teamwork approach, which provides support structures enabling women to reach director level early in their careers.

‘This means that should they wish to take maternity leave, their teams are well equipped to run without them,” Faber explains.

Acknowledging that long hours are frequently required of staffers, much effort has been made to ensure the firm’s premises, modified to minimise environmental impact, are attractive and welcoming.

Hence the introduction of state-of-the-art restaurants, complete with award-winning chefs, in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and creative spaces where team members can brainstorm problems in an informal environment.

Transformation is upheld as a value and priority at ENS. In February 2008 the firm was certified as a Level 5 contributor, with 46% of the total workforce hailing from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

Additionally, 21% of the company’s equity is held by black partners. In addition to being a stated company value, transformation has been addressed within ENS’s strategic framework as a strategic goal, to be regularly reviewed and monitored.

The firm’s established reputation for excellence has seen them being named South Africa’s law firm of the year for 2009 at the Practical Law Company (PLC) Which Lawyer?

Awards, voted the most trusted law firm in South Africa (2009) in the ACQ Finance Magazine Annual Country Awards for Achievement and voted as best law firm in South Africa (2009) in the International Legal Alliance (ILA) Awards in Paris.

These awards are no surprise given the firm’s ongoing commitment to its people. Faber says it best when he says: ‘We focus on the people we pay rather than the people who pay us.”

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