Law firms learned 10 years ago not to stop hiring or toss surplus people overboard when the work flow slows. To protect recruitment and retention, management has to find creative and humane ways to deal with this problem.
By Susan G. Manch|September 30, 2002 at 12:00 AM|The original version of this story was published on Legal Times
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A frustrated student at a prestigious law school called a recruiter at a large firm to find out why she wasn’t being invited for a callback. Patiently the recruiter explained, “While you were an excellent candidate (tactfully not adding, “albeit in the middle of your class”), others were better matches for our firm’s needs.” The student pressed on, asking, “Why are none of the firms in your area giving me a callback?” The recruiter decided to explain more honestly. “Let me walk you through my process,” she began. “I know that I want a summer class size of 10 and start by looking at about 3,000 r�sum�s. We then go on campus or invite in about 225 for screening interviews. We invite 60 for callbacks and make offers to 30. Of those 30 offers, we expect 10 to accept. Two years ago, I would have made twice that many offers, but we don’t need more than 10 people in our entering class. To be one of the 30 winnowed out of 3,000, every detail on your r�sum� and transcript has to be exactly what we are looking for.” On the other end of the line, there was silence as the numbers began to sink in. Welcome to the world of law firm overcapacity. Overcapacity is the polite term law firms use to describe the condition of simply having too many lawyers and too little work. Like a stubborn hurricane swirling over the Outer Banks of North Carolina during your entire two weeks of vacation, the economic downturn stubbornly refuses to give up and move on. We are now in the midst of the second on-campus recruiting season since the workflow generated by the Internet and telecom booms dried up. A year ago, firms — particularly those with emerging industry practices — were announcing layoffs and staggered start dates, and some even rescinded offers to incoming first-years. Most thought the flow of work would be back to normal by the beginning of this year, but the stunning bankruptcies of giants Enron and WorldCom, the continued dearth of transactional work in most parts of the country, and clients’ belt tightening have kept law firm financial managers focused on wisely managing their largest asset: their legal talent. Firms have employed a number of strategies to bring staffing in line with workflow, but there are no quick fixes. STRIKING A BALANCE
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