First quarter reports for 2015 have been released, and a key indicator the legal marketplace is improving is that lateral hiring is at an all-time high. Law firms are once again in growth mode, and competition for legal talent is fierce. However, recruiting in 2015 is different from past years. This can be attributed in part to recent reports which discuss the costs associated with lateral hiring and, in particular, the costly mistakes associated with making the wrong hire. Legal recruiting involves more than simply attracting legal talent. A major component of the recruitment process is integrating laterals through an onboarding plan. In other words, successful recruiting doesn't end when the lateral accepts the job offer. Though the information professional's role in the recruiting process is limited, she plays an important part in onboarding and integration.
The recruiting process involves a significant investment of time and resources. It is important to make the right hiring decisions, because the costs to the firm are substantial when a lateral departs after a short period of employment. On average, a company loses three times the salary of a new hire that doesn't stay with the organization. According to Mark Levin, co-author of Assessing Lawyer Traits & Finding a Fit for Success, hiring mistakes that end with an attorney departure can cost from $400,000 to more than $800,000 for experienced attorneys.1 This expense might seem outrageous, but there are direct and indirect costs associated with a bad hire, such as the recruiter's time as well as the accumulated time of the attorneys who participated in the interviewing process. In addition to the lost time and expenses associated with the recruiting process, a bad hire has the potential to damage the firm's brand as well as have a negative impact on staff morale and productivity. According to Amar Sarwal, vice president and chief legal strategist for the Association of Corporate Counsel, "While lateral moves are understandable for the lawyer looking for a bigger payday or a safer bet, general counsel are certainly frustrated by the amount of movement that's occurred over the last 10 to 15 years."2
In order for law firms to recruit more successful lateral associates, it has been suggested that the recruiting process itself needs to change.3 William Henderson and Christopher Zorn make several recommendations for improving lateral hiring:
- Assess the laterals you already have. Understand which characteristics contribute to their success or failure.
- Educate the stakeholders. Inform all involved in the hiring process of a move towards a valid process for lateral hiring and of the basis for that decision.
- Evaluate why laterals would want to join your firm. Examine what the firm's needs are and how the lateral hire will enhance the firm's future value.
- Build lateral partner scorecards. The purpose of the scorecard is to provide a measurement tool to evaluate business logic and the skills and attributes of a high quality lawyer.
- Design the interview process. Determine the structure of the interview and who will conduct the interview.
- Interview laterals using the due diligence process.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the hiring process.
Henderson and Zorn's first point is spot on. One way law firms can evaluate a lateral candidate's qualities and the likelihood of succeeding in the firm is to take an inside look at their most successful attorneys. Excellent grades and attending the "right" law school are important qualities, but they are not necessarily the attributes that will determine if a lateral candidate will be a successful hire. Jim Lebovitz, chairman of Dechert LLP's firm-wide lawyer hiring committee says, "We do a lot of studies, formal and informal, looking back on what are the characteristics of our most successful associates." Tim Law, Reed Smith's vice chairman of the hiring committee, elaborates by saying academic credentials are one of several critical areas. "In addition to showing they are capable of doing the work required of them at the firm, candidates must also show they are willing to do the work and that they will be good colleagues."4 For this reason, behavior-based interview questions will help reveal the lateral's personality and may in fact be a more valid indicator as to whether the lateral will be a successful hire.
A novel approach to determining whether a new hire will be the best fit is underway at Reed Smith's office in London where the firm has recently announced a move to a strengths-based assessment for the trainee recruitment process. Designed in collaboration with Capp, a specialist in strengths-based assessment and products, trainee candidates will complete a "situational strengths test" after they have submitted an application. The test includes a number of scenario-based questions which reflect situations they might encounter as a trainee. According to Lucy Crittenden, the firm's graduate recruitment manager, "Strengths-based assessment focuses on what students enjoy doing and what energizes them, rather than on simply what they can do, as the competency model does ..." Training principal and partner Peter Hardy states that "In creating this process, we have looked at the skills needed for our future talent so that we can best serve the changing needs of our clients ... Responses cannot be rehearsed ... This will make it easier to ensure the candidates are a good fit for us and the role, while also providing the opportunity to make sure the firm is right for them."5 As this process is new and in place only since July 2015, it will be interesting to monitor the program and to see if other firms, especially those in the U.S., begin to adopt this method.
As a librarian with more than 25 years of experience, I can't help but reflect on the ways law firm recruiting has changed, as well as the role the librarian has played in the recruitment process. Gone are the days when the librarian simply provided copies of a candidate's entry in Martindale-Hubbell. When describing her firm's librarian and her role in recruiting, one recruiter said "The firm's librarian is an amazing data miner who pulls information on prospective candidates, groups and firms, and helps evaluate the candidates."6 At many firms, the information professional is tasked with locating potential hires using research tools that were acquired for different purposes. For example, the Thomson Reuters Monitor Suite is used to vet lawyers in a specific jurisdiction with experience in a particular industry. In order to gain a broader picture of a lateral candidate, additional information can be located using social media products, such as smiAware. Librarians are experienced expert witness researchers, and with this skillset, librarians provide support by verifying information included on the lateral's CV as well as locating client names the lateral has done work for. This information is useful as part of the due diligence process and demonstrates another way in which the information professional collaborates with the human resources, recruiting, and risk management departments.
While the library department is most likely not the reason a lateral decides to join a firm, the support the lateral receives from the library team can be a crucial factor in whether the lateral has a positive onboarding experience. Library orientations include much more than handing out passwords to legal research databases. As part of the orientation, information professionals demonstrate the level of support the new joiner can expect to receive. By expanding the onboarding checklist to include examples of the various services the research team provides, such as new case filing alerts on clients the lateral represents, or a litigation or deal report on the lateral's trial or transactional history, librarians validate the important contribution they make to the lateral's success. Inside knowledge about other attorneys at the firm, such as who subscribes to various alerts and publications, can also be used to acclimate the lateral about what all is available.
During the economic downturn, librarians demonstrated traits such as accountability, creative thinking, and a genuine desire for collaboration within the firm. In addition to these qualities, librarians possess valuable knowledge about their firm and the legal industry. This expertise has enabled them to be effective members of the administrative team that supports the recruiting process and the successful integration of lateral hires.
1Report Says Wrong Fit at Firm Can Be Costly: Bloomberg's Business of Law, published Nov 12, 2014
2GCs Losing Patience with BigLaw's Lateral Mania". http://www.law360.com/articles/651801, 5/5/2015
3An Rx for Lateral Heartache / William Henderson and Christopher Zorn. The American Lawyer, 2/9/2015
4"How to Hire the Best Associates," http://www.law360.com/articles/642675, 4/21/2015
6Informal study conducted by the author and Jennifer Ross, Senior Legal Recruiting Manager, Reed Smith LLP
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