Thanks to my colleague Amy Levine for her valuable input and wisdom which helped in drafting this post.

It continues to be a strong labor market and the war for legal talent remains fierce in some circles.  Good candidates have options and great candidates are not staying on the job market for very long.  In any labor market, a law firm or corporation looking for in-house counsel should always put its best foot forward in trying to attract talent.  In the current climate, failing to do so is a recipe for failure.  In the past six months, we have seen this play out over and over again.  Firms and companies that take the time to invest in the recruiting process (and in the candidates) are the winners.  Employers who fail to move quickly find themselves wondering why a candidate accepted another offer before they had the chance to  extend their own offer.

Here are some tips to help you if you are trying to attract great legal talent:

  • Take the time to clearly define what skills, experiences and personality traits are necessary for a job and what skills are simply “nice to have’s”.
  • Figure out who the decision makers will be  and get them on board with the job description.
  • Understand the market and know the range that the market is paying for particular positions.
  • Know how much you are able to pay given internal equities in your firm or company.
  • Once you have begun to identify prospective candidates (whether it is from advertising, referrals or through recruiters), act quickly to begin setting up interviews.
  • Make sure everyone involved in the hiring process understands the job req.
  • Post a salary range or make sure candidates understand the salary range.  If you prefer not to disclose your own range, ask candidates for their salary expectations (either directly or through a recruiter.)  Under the new Massachusetts Pay Equity Act, you cannot ask candidates what they are currently earning.  But it is legitimate to ask for their expectations.
  • Make sure everyone who will be involved in the interviews understands the importance of moving quickly but also of treating candidates like honored guests.
  • Be sure that everyone in  your organization understands the importance of creating a positive interviewing experience for a candidate (i.e. everyone needs to show the love).  This means listening to the candidate, trying to engage candidates in conversation, and understanding the “hot buttons” for each candidate.
  • If you are working with a search firm, give your recruiter quick feedback on candidates they submit, especially if they miss the mark.  That will ensure that the recruiter makes appropriate adjustments.
  • Similarly, give feedback to recruiters after each candidate interview so they can either recalibrate or so they can keep strong candidates on a “warm burner” as the process continues.
  • If there are delays in the search process, make sure to keep candidates informed (again, either directly or through the search firm that sourced the candidate).  Everyone wants to be wanted.

If you do move to the offer stage and you are working with a search firm, have the recruiter make the offer first. That way the candidate has the chance to react more candidly.  If the recruiter delivers the news, you’ll still get feedback; but it will be feedback that has been appropriately filtered.    After you hear back from your recruiter, have a senior partner or hiring manager at your company take the time to reach out to the candidate directly.  This can have a significant impact on a candidate and demonstrates that the company or firm really wants to hire the candidate.

Candidates make rational decisions (Is this the right career move for me? Will I get the work I want with the clients I want to serve? Is this a significant salary increase? Do I like the location?  The reputation of the firm or company? Is this the right platform to grow my practice?)  But hiring is a lot like dating.  The courtship process matters a lot.  Don’t underestimate the importance of the intangibles.  We’ve had many candidates come back to us in recent months and tell us they felt like a prospective employer was jerking them around or that another employer seemed a lot more interested in them.

I’ve personally spoken to two such candidates since the start of the New Year.  One withdrew her application from the company that she originally considered her number one choice.  Another accepted an offer with one firm  because the other firm kept changing its story about whether they had authorization to make the hire.

In sum, if you want good talent in this climate, make a concerted effort to let candidates feel welcome, communicate with them regularly and make sure you are addressing their concerns.  If you and your team pay attention to the hiring process and make a candidate feel important, you are much more likely to beat out the competition.


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