Hiring high-value team members to your legal team is not the same as hiring more junior staff. The rules are a little different, which is why many Firms are not as successful at it as they’d like. In this blog, Founder and Managing Director at Jones Davey Legal Search, Llion Jones, takes us through the 9 bear-traps you can fall into when hiring high-value team members at your Law Firm or Legal Department.
During my 20 years as a legal search specialist, I’ve identified several bear-traps that people often fall into. These are mistakes or omissions that reduce the chance of securing the right senior people for your Firm.
What follows are 9 of the most common: 3 before the engagement begins; 3 during the selection process, and 3 following completion.
1. Clients are interviewing the candidate instead of promoting the Firm and the role
Traditionally, clients interview candidates and in a market where there are more candidates than there are jobs, it’s fine to do this. However, when the number of high-quality candidates is low and the demand is high, an alternative approach will always deliver better results. This is all about recognising the power of supply and demand.
We advise that you begin the interview by talking about the Firm, it’s plans and aspirations and exciting things that are currently being undertaken. You can then zero in on the role and highlight how it will develop, and the opportunities it affords. As you do this, you can ask questions about what they would require in a Law Firm, and in a role, to inspire them to learn more.
In some cases, it’s a good idea to allow your retained agent to sit in on the interview to help you promote the Firm and the role, and maintain continuity of message.
It’s then relatively easy to tie up their aspirations, hopes and dreams with your plans. If you’re convinced there’s going to be a good match between the Firm, the role and the candidate, you can then explore their suitability with whatever qualifying questions you think are appropriate. Naturally, your search consultant can have a big impact here.
When approached in this way, we estimate the candidate is 30% more likely to accept an offer if you make one.
2. Promoting your role to the market
In simple terms, if too many agencies are aware of your need to hire a senior person, then it can result in the candidates being flooded with calls all for the same role. Some candidates report that this makes the Firm look desperate and are not encouraged to pursue the role.
When multiple agencies, with varying levels of information, skills and reputations, are all fishing in the same pool, you can imagine how this is received by the candidates. “You’re the fourth person to mention that to me this week!”
This does not command the same kudos as being approached by a search firm solely appointed to deliver high-quality candidates.
If the agencies run adverts they only serve to raise the profile of the Firm, but very rarely do they generate qualified and interested candidates.
Agencies tend to have some ‘people on their books’ who have applied to the agency for whatever reason. Once these are exhausted it’s out to the markets to make some noise.
If you want your search partner to invest time to research the market, identify some suitable candidates (most of whom will not be on the market already) and present them to you for consideration, then we would advise you to engage a specialist search firm, and work closely with them on a retained basis.
You’ll get better results and your Firm will look more in control of the process.
3. Sending out mixed messages
The search company is briefed by the sponsors within the Firm such as HR and the hiring partner. They then convey these messages to the candidates they speak to so that a consistent and positive message is communicated to all parties.
The bear-trap happens during the interview process if the interviewer has not been briefed with the same key messages. Typically, they end up asking questions that are either not appropriate or have already been answered.
A worse situation is where the interviewer says something that is contrary to the briefing that the search company was told. This confuses the candidate who will often remove themselves from consideration.
It’s vital that anybody who interviews the candidate has been briefed on the key messages and has read any notes from previous meetings and interviews, including those with the search company.
During the Process
4. Moving the goal posts
In this case, the brief is agreed including the details of the skills, experience and seniority of the candidate required. However, during the process, these details change in a significant way.
Now, I accept that this does happen on occasions especially if there is a change of circumstances in the Firm. However, there’s a big difference between this and the role not having been properly thought out and discussed with the key stakeholders.
The outcome of this is that the search agency must start researching the marketplace over again and if the changes are made during the interview, or even offer stage, the reputation of the Firm can suffer. Candidates talk to each other about roles so you want this to be positive, and good people mix with good people.
It’s essential that the key decision makers are all in agreement on the key objectives and requirements of a successful hire. For example, what will the candidate have to do in the first three years to be considered a success?
5. Slow to respond to requests for information
Imagine you have been approached for a role even though you weren’t looking. The search consultant describes the Firm and the role. It sounds interesting, but you need to clarify some points before you can move forward.
The search consultant promises to find out and get back to you; but they don’t. In the unlikely event you chase them, it’s apparent they can’t get that information from the client. Does this make you more, or less keen, on exploring the role?
Good people are easy to find but hard to hire. This is the courtship stage so attentiveness is crucial to show the candidate you care.
In most cases, the answer is less, much less. Whilst pressure of work can delay things, like answering the questions asked by a search consultant on behalf of a candidate, the truth is that the sharper the response, the easier it is to close the appointment successfully.
We need to make the engagement process as smooth and transparent for the candidate as possible, so they can be certain they’re joining a well organised and efficient organisation.
6. The business and HR department not aligned
HR has a set of priorities that sometimes can be out of alignment with the hiring partners. Worse still, is when HR and the partners are not communicating effectively.
This is not a matter of apportioning blame, but rather a suggestion that all stakeholders involved in the recruitment process have the same priorities; are working with the same parameters (especially around the package being offered), and are entirely focused on getting the best possible candidate with the least amount of hassle.
Very often, if your search consultant has a relationship with all parties concerned, he or she can be the conduit and communication channel to ensure the recruitment momentum remains undiminished, and maximise the chances of securing your first choice.
7. The Salary and Package Negotiations are mishandled
This is the final, and often the most sensitive, component of closing the deal. It’s vital that expectations are managed for both parties from the very beginning of the engagement process.
One specific bear-trap is that the Firm doesn’t conduct thorough due diligence on the candidate’s client base and earnings over the past few years. Not fully understanding what clients they can bring with them is also a big problem.
Again, this is where your search consultant can add real value. They should be able to lead or at least contribute to the due diligence process which will often ensure a successful conclusion.
Another bear trap is giving a final offer that differs from the initial indications. In this case, the search consultant must make sure that a) there is a justifiable reason for this, and b) that this is presented early enough to avoid embarrassment on both sides.
The final salary negotiation should be more of a formality rather than a final hurdle to leap.
8. Incomplete or insufficient on-boarding and integration
A key, and often overlooked stage when hiring senior people is their integration into the business. It’s a well-known fact that 60% of these people move on within 2 years of starting a new role. One contributory factor for this is a lack of structured onboarding.
According to a 2015 study by Equifax, Firms who have an onboarding process have a 50% greater employee retention rate, and when you consider the cost of a new hire, this is a significant saving!
Unwittingly, clients tend to relax once they’ve secured their target and often leave them to their own devices. Our advice is not to do this. Instead, design out the first 100 days at least. People they need to see, things they need to learn, training requirements and targets they need to hit can all be included in their onboarding plan.
Onboarding will increase retention, make people more productive in less time, and help identify any possible issues early enough to be resolved before they become problems.
We also believe that the search consultant should stay close to the candidate for months or even years, after their initial placement to ensure that their needs are being met and that any issues are addressed at the first available opportunity.
9. Miss-selling opportunities
Often this is completely unintentional based upon a feeling of optimism or sometimes a lack of understanding. The candidate is told that the Firm has connections with one client or another and if they join then they can leverage even more work, which never comes.
Sometimes, a candidate is led to believe that they will be able to work with other parts of the Firm when, for several reasons, this isn’t going to happen.
It’s essential that the individual is provided with an accurate description of the opportunity, client relationships, the Firm’s finances and generally communicate with them in complete candour. This gives them the opportunity to make an informed, educated choice about the next chapter of their career.
This approach may mean that the Firm misses out on some of their targets, however, in our experience, it’s better for this to happen at the earliest opportunity before too much time and energy is spent so that we can focus on others.
Transparency and a buy-in from the key decision makers are key. They should form a key part of the search team and be involved at every stage.
If you are a Law Firm or Legal Team looking to make a new legal hire, get in touch with us to benefit from our bespoke and thorough legal search service.