Law firms and corporate legal departments often find themselves with more resumes than they know what to do with. Recruiting managers at law firms report that they receive dozens of unsolicited resumes each day. It has also been estimated that for every attorney position listed on certain well-known job search websites, more than 300 resumes are submitted.
And yet, numerous attorney vacancies remain unfilled for months at a time or are never filled with quality candidates. These are positions that require top-notch attorneys with specialized skill sets and other specific and exceptional credentials. They typically come about in situations such as when an attorney with a particular expertise suddenly leaves a firm, an important client has a new need for additional legal services, or when the marketplace demands a new or improved practice group.
In spite of the surplus of resumes crossing their desks, legal employers frequently experience difficulties in securing suitable candidates for their specialized positions. Sometimes, for example, a candidate with the right skill set cannot be found. In other instances, an otherwise qualified candidate lacks the temperament to fit in with a firm’s work environment, or there are misunderstandings about the nature of the job, client base, chances for advancement, conflicts, compensation, etc.
The good news is that firms can garner excellent, well-suited candidates for their specialized positions, as long as extensive research and due diligence are conducted, and both parties engage in prompt and open conversation. By following some guiding principles, firms can ease the search process and substantially increase their chances of hiring the best possible candidates for their hard-to-fill vacancies.
Research and Recruit from Fertile Territories
Once a firm determines the criteria for a position, it should develop a targeted plan to efficiently locate a pool of qualified candidates. A good recruiter who knows the legal market can be an invaluable asset in a firm’s search strategy.
A superior recruiter will perform extensive research into firms, corporations, associations, and other entities employing attorneys with the required skills, and contact candidates therein who appear to meet the criteria of a job vacancy. While many candidates will not be willing to leave their current positions, others can be persuaded to investigate new opportunities if their situations and ambitions are properly understood and acted upon.
If, for example, a large law firm is interested in recruiting an associate for a new legal initiative that could lead to increased responsibility and acclamation, a recruiter could make contacts at specialty shops or associations where candidates are well-trained in a specific discipline, but do not have the opportunity to head up challenging projects or reap extensive monetary or professional rewards.
A recruiter’s job here is to talk honestly and openly with candidates about their existing positions and what they are looking for. In order for this discussion to be productive, a recruiter must actively and carefully listen to each candidate.
By engaging these candidates in constructive conversation right off the bat, a recruiter can help them ascertain whether their career goals are being met in their current position, and determine whether they may be better served by exploring opportunities with a client firm. If a recruiter astutely evaluates potential matches between qualified candidates and a client, and communicates that effectively to the candidates, they will likely agree to provide their resumes to the recruiter.
Due Diligence is Critical
A good recruiter will conduct due diligence on each and every one of the candidates before submitting their resumes to a client. This includes: (a) a meeting with each candidate to thoroughly explore their backgrounds and skill sets; (b) confirmation of the candidates’ education credentials and bar certifications; and (c) calls to their references. A recruiter should summarize the information obtained from this process when each candidate is submitted to a client.
Properly done, a recruiter’s due diligence will result in a pool of quality candidates who have strong skill sets and are likely to be a good match with the client. When a client receives resumes from a quality recruiter, it will be assured that it has the best possible candidates from which to choose.
Know Your Candidates’ Motivations
While it undoubtedly makes a legal employer’s job easier to have a group of superior candidates to interview, it is incumbent upon the employer to make a strong effort during the interview process to discover the extent to which each candidate is serious and committed enough to leave his/her current position and be a quality addition to the team. Hence, an in-depth conversation with a candidate concerning his/her motivations, expanding on what the recruiter reported, is critical early on in the process. Again, listening is the key.
The initial interview should focus on what the candidate is doing at his/her current position, and if there is anything the candidate would rather be doing to meet his/her career goals. This line of conversation provides a safe opening for a candidate to provide insights into his/her desired professional evolution, which can help an employer determine whether the candidate is up to the challenge of the specialized position.
Be Alert to Candidates’ Serious Concerns
Once a candidate has earned serious consideration, an employer should be willing to address any concerns expressed or implied by a candidate during the early interviewing process. An appropriate forum for this type of discussion is a meeting in which firm culture is discussed. In a comfortable atmosphere, any remaining issues that can be resolved should be resolved. It is here that any issues, including sensitive ones such as advancement opportunities, work-life balance, compensation, etc. can best be resolved. Earning the candidate’s trust and engaging in honest communications about a candidate’s trepidations can go a long way toward building a productive and lasting professional relationship.
Hire the Golden Candidate
Legal employers can often feel thwarted in their attempts to fill their specialized positions. Their frustration reaches a crescendo as they review resume after resume submitted by well-meaning but unqualified candidates. This need not be so. By researching and executing a targeted search strategy, conducting thorough due diligence, and above all, engaging candidates in prompt and open conversation, highly qualified and motivated candidates can be recruited for most any position, no matter how particular an employer’s hiring needs may be.
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