Law firms: how to run an effective recruitment process

Recruitment and growth remains at the forefront of most law firm’s priorities as we near the fourth quarter of 2015. This increased appetite to recruit has led to a very competitive and candidate short market in many areas of law.
Often the struggle to recruit is amplified by the inability of law firms to implement a seamless recruitment process. This means that teams are needlessly missing out on the top legal talent in the market. The inability to recruit and fill vacancies also impacts on the retention of existing staff, whereby team members are left frustrated and over-worked.
A better recruitment process will give you a better chance of securing the right candidate and keeping your existing lawyers happy.
Conor Farrell, Managing Consultant at Michael Page Legal in Birmingham talks through the steps needed to run an effective recruitment campaign.

Timescale: When do you need to recruit by?

Have a timeframe and stick to it. Think about when you need this person to start and keep your mind focused on that date. Set aside time to focus on the recruitment process - heavy workloads often mean that partners take their eyes off the recruitment process.
It will take time to get a shortlist of CVs and then to conduct first round interviews (and potentially second interviews) before you get to offer and acceptance stage. You shouldn’t expect CVs straight away – it will take time for your recruiter to speak to the best candidates in the market.
If your reason for recruitment is to replace an outgoing solicitor, remember that any solicitor you recruit will almost certainly have at least a three month notice period. So you need to react quickly to reduce the period of time between the person leaving and your new recruit starting.

Liaise with your recruiter: make sure they know everything! 

A good job specification may yield some interest from active candidates in the market. But what about those superstar solicitors who are not actively looking but may be open to the right opportunity? These passive candidates usually do not have the time (nor the inclination) to spend time trawling through job boards or reading detailed job specs. 
It is the job of your recruiter to target this passive candidate base. To do this, your recruiter needs to know you and your team/firm inside out so that they can sell the opportunity. Meet your recruiter, fully brief them and give them as much information as you can about the role, the workload, the client base and the USPs of the opportunity. 
A good recruiter will be honest about how realistic your requirements are. If they’re not realistic, the recruiter will help you to separate the ‘must-haves’ from the ‘nice-to-haves’.  

See a CV that you like? Move faster than your competition

As soon as we flag a CV that piques some interest, you should meet them as soon as possibe – even if you feel some uncertainty. You can raise these concerns in an interview rather than going back and forth to your recruiter with queries.
Within the real estate sector, we work with a number of law firms who will literally drop everything to meet an outstanding prospect as soon as possible. We have had partners travel from Birmingham to London to meet solicitors the day after receiving a CV. We have even arranged for interviews to take place on a Saturday.
A rapid response will make the candidate feel wanted and creates a perfect initial impression. If you get ahead of your competition, your first impression will always be stronger than theirs and it can put you firmly in pole position. 

In the interview: the dos and don’ts

Excellent solicitors will have other options on the table, so you must make the interview a two-way process. As much as they are selling their experience to you, you must do all you can to stand out from your competition.
Talk about exciting work the team are doing, your great client base and opportunities for progression. Don’t underestimate the need to sell the opportunity. If you have a great bonus scheme, talk about it in detail – this might be the thing that differentiates you from the competition! 
Don’t make negative comments about your competition and make sure you tailor your questions to that particular candidate – for example, technical questions will not be received well by more senior candidates. Salary talk or negotiation is also not appropriate and will make candidates feel uncomfortable.

Feedback: make sure you provide it!

The lack of feedback following an interview is a candidate’s main gripe. They have taken the time to meet with you, so even if the candidate is a “no” you must relay this with sufficient detail as to why.
The legal market is a very small place and people talk – a candidate may put colleagues or friends off applying to your firm in the future if they feel they have had a poor experience. It reflects badly on your firm and it’s hard to shake off a bad reputation (and it makes our job a lot harder to sell the opportunity!).
If the feedback is positive, then pass this on quickly. If you really like a candidate but your senior partner needs to rubber stamp it with another meeting, then give us feedback on the areas the candidate needs to focus on for this interview.

After the interview: going the extra mile

If you’ve met a candidate and loved them but there needs to be a second stage interview, make sure this meeting happens straight away. Keep the momentum going and don’t let your competition catch up.
If the candidate is meeting a number of firms, go the extra mile and make them feel part of the team already – take them for drinks with the team or arrange a coffee with solicitors at their level. This way, they will have bought into everybody in the department before you make an offer.

Making the offer: don’t disappoint

Make the offer as soon as you can (there’s a theme here!) and make sure it’s a great offer that won’t disappoint.
There’s no point going back and forth with different offers – it’s not a great footing to start off on. If you’ve both been upfront from the outset about salary expectations then there should be no need for surprises at this stage.

Notice periods: keep in touch!

Once the candidate has accepted the position, don’t forget about them! Keep in touch during their notice period. Firstly, this will make the move as seamless as possible for them and they will already feel integrated into the team if they are invited to team events etc. 
Secondly (and most importantly), the candidate is still likely to be called about other opportunities or their firm may even continue to try and persuade them to stay while they are serving their notice period. We have had instances of candidates having their heads turned during their notice period and then renege on their acceptance. 
For more advice or to discuss your current recruitment requirements, contact your local Michael Page Legal office now.