Most firms will have at least one dedicated legal Human Resources (HR) and recruiting contact, with bigger firms having large teams, often split into HR and recruitment, with any number of subdivisions within each area.
In-house HR and recruitment positions are often populated by former private practice lawyers who may for example have an employment background, or come via private practice recruitment.
Legal HR and "lawyer services" roles can cover everything from "new hire" paperwork, including criminal records and background checks, to exit paperwork, leave requests including maternity leave, lawyer appraisals, statistical requests, surveys etc, and office transfers / relocation processes, including work authorisation.
Related areas which might also fall under a broad "lawyer services" role include overseeing continuing professional development, liaising with the Law Society, managing employee benefit schemes and organising lawyer / firm events. In larger offices may be separate teams dealing with these areas however.
Legal recruitment aspects can encompass graduate recruitment and training contract applications and schemes, experienced lawyer hires, managing recruitment agencies, drafting job descriptions, filtering CVs, conducting interviews, drafting offer letters and keeping up to speed with current hiring requirements.
UK branch offices of US and international firms can have smaller teams covering the full spectrum of legal recruitment and lawyer HR functions, providing a broad law firm management type role, which can be more satisying. A oversees firm may task its HR department with a number of areas that HR in a UK firm would not, such as, for a US firm for example, work authorisation / visas for US interns, visas for US lawyers here, temporary housing etc.
Hours can certainly be long, depending on the firm, they do at least tend to be regular and working late or over weekends is unusual. On the other hand, even an experienced manager in this type of role cannot expect a salary which is comparable with their fee-earning colleagues.
All this is perhaps the 'traditional' view of legal HR, to which can be added a new strategic level in a changing legal world. With new vehicles and a new landscape born out of the Legal Services Act and economic necessity, there is fresh emphasis on working practices and profitability. This is going to impact on HR departments in many areas such as performance management, targets, productions costs, project management, change management, outsourcing and supplier relationships. Execution of strategic management decisions from the trend away from PQE to appraisal schemes and performance related remuneration, to managing the outsourcing of certain of the firm's legal and HR functions, are all going to require brand new understanding and implementation skills.