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Recruiting and Retention: Seven Strategies to Help Win the War for Talent

By Steve Nelson

In my 25 plus years of recruiting in the legal sector, I’ve never seen an environment like the this with respect to recruiting and retention.

recruiting and retention

In my 25 plus years of recruiting in the legal sector, I have never seen an environment like the current one with respect to recruiting legal talent.  And that’s at every level —partners, associates, management and staff. Demand is high and so are the demands of the candidates. We’re seeing firms pushing the envelope and doing things like:

  • Offering associates in lower-cost markets “New York” salaries plus the ability to work from home
  • Offering headhunters double their current fee percentage (and we’re not opposed to that!)
  • Increases in referral fees paid to employees who suggest candidates.
  • A large increase in the number of counteroffers by current employers.

Rethinking Law Firm Recruitment and Retention

As a result, firms should rethink their recruiting and retention strategies in a time of crisis. Here are some suggestions:

1. Articulate the case for your firm.

Too often, firms can tell us why they need the person, but often have difficulty telling us why anyone would come. Despite what you may be hearing about today’s market studies continue to show that compensation is not the primary consideration for candidates. As a result, it is incumbent on you to explain the benefits of both your firm generally and the specific opportunity.

Along those lines, firms often point to their culture as a differentiator. However, you need to be very specific about the firm culture, using specific examples. And just saying the buzzwords “collaborative,” “collegial” or “entrepreneurial” won’t cut it.

2. Be very specific about your firm’s remote vs. in-the-office policy.

Nothing tells candidates more about your culture than your policy concerning returning to the office. It is no secret that most employees want flexibility and most firms are emphasizing that in their policies, but the devil is often in the details. Both with regard to your firm’s general policy and in your interaction with candidates, the articulation of your policy is as important as the policy itself.

3. Make sure you are addressing implicit bias.

Virtually all firms have declared a strong commitment to hiring and retaining diverse talent. But often the consideration of those attorneys is viewed through a white male prism, where perceived shortcomings of diverse candidates can be magnified. But another form of implicit bias that is widespread and often shoved under the table—the bias against older workers. Now is the perfect time to consider and recruit experienced candidates who have the ability to get up to speed in a hurry.

4. Don’t get boxed in by outdated and often superficial salary surveys.

Compensation is increasing rapidly in the legal sector, and not just for associates. Too often, we speak to law firm representatives who rely on outside surveys in setting the salary ranges for their positions. Not only are most of the surveys months old and don’t reflect today’s reality, but their methodology is often flawed in the way they mix firms in different markets and of different sizes. More than ever, firms need real-time data from their market and their peers.

5. Use a search firm rather than a staffing agency.

The preference these days — whether it is for partners, associates, or top management positions — is for many firms is to utilize multiple recruiters, often in conjunction with their own efforts, in a virtual free-for-all for talent.  That may work to get your firm candidates in a hurry, but that also results in your limiting the pool to candidates who are “in the market.” Some of these candidates may be valuable, but doesn’t your firm want to hire the best people available, not just those who “are looking to leave.” A search firm dedicated to reaching out to all of the best candidates and articulating your story (see point no. 1) can be more successful than a bunch of “agencies” who are working on multiple similar assignments at the same time. Moreover, a search firm can provide real-time data that is much more valuable than any salary survey.

6. When you get excited about a candidate, jump!

Even when firms get excited about a candidate, they often hesitate about moving the process along because they want to see more candidates. In today’s competitive environments, your firm can’t afford to do that. A delay will not only reduce momentum and excitement, but it will give a valuable candidate the chance to look at other opportunities. While due diligence is still critical, firms can’t afford to sit back and wait.

7. Get ready for counteroffers.

Despite overwhelming consensus among talent consultants that taking a counteroffer from an existing employer is inadvisable and dangerous, candidates today are more likely to consider counteroffers. Not only are their employers more likely to match or even exceed the compensation on the table, but they often are adding promotions to the mix.  As a result, it’s important to discuss this possibility with leading candidates — either directly or through an outside recruiter.

Be Proactive With Your Retention Strategies

It’s also a good time for employers to evaluate whether they need to make their top performers virtually immune from outside entreaties, through compensation increases, title changes, or other benefits. Given the overheated market for talent right now, firms can’t afford to wait until the anniversary date to reward their stars.

1221 Illustration ©

More on Winning the Talent Wars …

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Stephen Nelson Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson is an executive principal at The McCormick Group, an executive search firm based in Arlington, Va. Steve conducts partner-level searches, searches for in-house counsel, and searches for administrative professionals for law firms. In addition, he serves as a consultant for law firm merger planning, practice area expansion, and in recruiting strategy. Steve is a former attorney with 17 years in legal journalism and publishing and is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. Follow him @SKNLegal.

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