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The Friday Five

Five Steps to Winning the Hiring Wars

By Steve Nelson

Winning the talent war is one of the most important ways that an organization can make more than incremental change in a relatively short period of time. In his book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t,” one of Jim Collins’ key findings is that “good-to-great leaders began the transformation by first getting the right people on the bus.”

Recruiting and Hiring Basics You Should Know

That said, we see too many law firms struggle with their hiring processes, whether it be for lateral partners, associates or staff. One reason is that hiring tends to get crowded out by other priorities, such as completing client work, business development and participating in law firm committee meetings. As a result, firm management often overlooks some basic recruiting principles when they go to market for talent.

Here are five easy steps you can take to win the lawyer hiring war.

1. Look at your job posting as a marketing opportunity, not merely a “help wanted” announcement. Position descriptions should not merely be a recitation of the requirements needed for the position, but should be a marketing document for the firm. Too often, such descriptions are viewed as a way to screen out candidates, as opposed to an opportunity for your firm to communicate its unique story to talented professionals.

2. Be aware of the appropriate market for compensation. Nothing can hurt a firm more than being perceived as overly parsimonious in its compensation program. Put another way, would you rather pay a little bit more for the best talent or pay a little bit less for mediocre talent? While published salary surveys can be helpful, they often don’t factor in every variable. You have to ensure that you are competitive with peer firms in the appropriate geographies.

3. Ensure the confidentiality of all candidates. Law firm leaders have lots of relationships at many firms, and sometimes feel that they can make an “off-the-record” call to those who work with or have worked with a specific candidate. But those tempted to make that call should ask themselves how they would feel if someone made a similar call about them.

4. Know what the process is and stick to it. Nothing can turn off an otherwise excited candidate more than being told, at the last minute, that some new constituency needs to meet with them. The profession is all about “process management and improvement” right now, and that should apply to your interview process as well. And if your process gets delayed (as it invariably does in a profession with lots of busy people), make sure you are transparent with the candidate as to the source of the delay. Show him or her that you remain excited about them potentially joining your firm.

5. Never keep a candidate “warm.” There is always a temptation to keep a candidate under consideration, even though there are serious concerns about him or her. Our experience in recruiting indicates that those candidates are rarely hired, or even interviewed again. You risk a poor reputation in the marketplace if you string candidates along without any final resolution. Better to politely tell them that the firm is “moving in another direction at this time,” and surprise them if at some point you reconsider.

Note: This article was adapted from a segment of a white paper produced for titled “Building a Legal Marketing Team.”

Illustration ©

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Friday Five, Law Firm Hiring, Law Firm People Management
Originally published November 4, 2016
Last updated August 31, 2020
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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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