This article was published in the American Bar Association's Law Practice Today on November 14, 2016. It is republished here with permission. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
As the pool of top associate talent has decreased over the past several years due to reduced numbers of experienced midlevel associates, increased opportunities for in-house positions, and declining law school enrollment, the competition to hire the best associates has intensified. Hiring requires many resources, not the least of which is partner and associate time, so it is critical that your hiring and recruiting efforts are focused on candidates who would succeed in your firm. All firms want to hire the brightest candidates, of course, but many more factors than excellent research and writing skills, for instance, will make an associate thrive in a given firm.
The top reason cited by 2L candidates in an internal survey as to why they chose Pepper Hamilton during this year’s recruiting season is our “culture.” Each firm has its own culture that is developed over time by the people within the organization. To ensure that a firm and candidates (both students and experienced associates) are making the best possible match, how can a firm bring the concept of culture to the recruiting process?
1. Articulate your firm’s culture.
Firm culture is a concept we often hear about, but sometimes have a hard time describing as we experience work at our firms day to day. Whether you are thinking about entry-level recruiting or making lateral hires throughout the year, think about three features of your firm’s culture: its values, practices, and people.
Values speak to the kind of behaviors, attitudes, and mindsets that capture what matters at your firm. Are traits such as individualism and entrepreneurship exhibited by the most successful lawyers? Or are your lawyers more collaborative and focused on cross-selling? Practices are values in action. Is teamwork emphasized by leadership when staffing matters? Or do your lawyers tend to work independently for the most part? Your people are the attorneys and staff who reflect the values and practices in their work for clients—and each other—every day. Is your firm highly structured and hierarchical? Or is there little emphasis on titles and reporting structure?
When you and your attorneys can tell authentic stories about how you individually experience your firm’s values, practices, and people, it will be easier to reflect your firm’s culture during the recruiting process. Connect your stories and experiences in conversations with candidates, and you will be able to share your firm’s culture without feeling like you are in recruiting or marketing mode.
2. Start with your interviewers.
Every firm has people doing great work and reflecting the firm’s culture in their interactions with other attorneys, clients and staff. Identify these attorneys as interviewers—whether they are partners or junior associates. Talk with attorneys and practice group leaders. Get their perspective on who might be interested in talking about their experiences at the firm with prospective summer associates or lateral candidates. Be sure to consider attorneys from a variety of practice groups. When candidates interact with partners and associates from different groups, they can personally observe how your firm’s culture is shared and expressed across the firm. Once you have identified your best representatives, train them and provide clear guidelines and direction on how to question and assess candidates using your firm’s criteria.
3. Structure your interviews with the end in mind.
Maya Angelou is famous for saying that people may not always remember what you do or say, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Each part of the interview process presents opportunities to demonstrate what matters to your firm, and can leave a lasting impression on the candidate. Decide which aspects of your culture you want to convey before you begin interviews. You can then plan your interview process in a way that reflects those parts of your culture. Consider the following questions regarding the structure and format of your interviews while keeping the firm’s culture in mind:
4. Assess what matters.
Think about what qualities matter within your firm’s culture as you develop your assessment criteria. Doing so before you begin interviewing will help you identify these candidates during the evaluation process. Develop and articulate criteria that assess whether a candidate’s experience reflects your firm’s culture while adding to the diversity of thought currently represented at the firm. Provide your interviewers with questions that will help them answer questions on your evaluation form regarding a candidate’s team orientation, or entrepreneurial mindset, for example. Your evaluation forms should capture these criteria in a way that allows your interviewers to unambiguously share their perspective on candidates.
5. Personalize the recruiting experience.
Although firms may interview hundreds of candidates a year, making sure each candidate feels like a priority speaks volumes about your firm’s culture. Incorporating conversations with former summers, junior associates, or new lateral attorneys at the beginning or end of an interview schedule gives candidates a more personal insight into what life is like for associates at your firm. Being responsive to candidates’ questions and updates demonstrates your respect for their time and interest. Showing candidates around the office, staying in contact following an interview, and offering opportunities for follow-up calls or visits after an offer is extended are a few additional ways law firms can create tangible experiences that leave a lasting positive impression with candidates. A personalized recruiting experience can give candidates a sense of what it would be like to come to your firm and work in your offices, with your lawyers every day.
We live in a world and work in a profession where speed, efficiency and timeliness rule the day, but we all need to remember to stop, slow down, think, and consider the word “human” when recruiting and hiring our “human” resources.
The material in this publication was created as of the date set forth above and is based on laws, court decisions, administrative rulings and congressional materials that existed at that time, and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on specific facts. The information in this publication is not intended to create, and the transmission and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship.