The Sunday Times recently launched its 100 Best Companies to Work For listing, now an annual feature and much anticipated by the business community.

Almost half of the companies on the list are from the professional and financialservices sector, including 12 law firms.

Had the list been in existence 20 years ago, I doubt whether it would have looked the same. My guess is that it would have been dominated by manufacturers and retailers. I think the make up of the latest list reflects the rapid social and economic change we have seen in this and other regions of the UK in the last few years.

The explosion in the number and type of services you can now buy has propelled the professional and financial services sector into the big league. It is a major employer, and certainly in the Midlands looks set to remain the fastest-growing sector over the next decade.

But in addition to its growth, there are other reasons why the sector is so well represented on the list.

Firstly, speaking for the legal industry, as advisers on employment matters we are close to the legislation governing this area. We know about the changes to legislation largely before they happen.

This puts us in pole position to ensure that our own policies and procedures are not only up to scratch, but in many cases exceeded. It is also good to be seen to be practising what we preach.

Secondly, there has undoubtedly been demand from clients. The public sector has led the way in this regard. Government departments, local government and the health sector, for example, all work hard at being good employers. They have set the standard for everyone else to follow.

However, the key reason for improving the way we treat our staff is probably not that altruistic. As the battle for good people intensifies, our aim is not just to recruit people, but to keep them as well.

It is expensive to recruit new people and it is expensive to train them. Our people are our business: we must treat them well, both in terms of package and professional development if they are going to stay with us. It costs about three times a professional's salary to recruit a replacement. Consequently, measures which reduce staff 'churn' by even one or two percent can make a significant impact on an employer's profitability.

For this reason, professional and financial services firms go that extra mile beyond the legislation. As far as Mills & Reeve is concerned, benefits above a good salary and holiday entitlement include flexible working, paternity leave and subsidised food, childcare vouchers, counselling, discount schemes, reduced rates on gym membership, life assurance, wedding and moving leave, season ticket loan and pensions contributions - among others.

As a result of these initiatives, our track record on staff retention has improved. Similarly, we are finding that we are attracting more job applicants. Indeed, many of them cite ' The Sunday Times listing as a reason for wanting to work for the firm. It acts as an independent endorsement of our employment policies.

Guy Hinchley is managing partner of Mills & Reeve in Birmingham