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Attracting talented law students and lateral attorneys is critical to the long-term success of law firms. Law students, of course, represent the future leaders and rainmakers of a firm. Lateral attorneys, particularly those with profitable books of business, permit firms to complement existing practice groups and/or expand into substantive or geographical areas where a firm did not previously practice. Legal recruiting can be enormously successful for any firm when done correctly. On the other hand, a firm’s recruiting effort can be an unproductive expenditure of a firm’s capital and human resources that leads to unhappy unions, unmet expectations and unprofitable business. To be successful, legal recruiting has to be done strategically. This principle applies to all aspects of legal hiring, from recruiting law students for a summer program and structuring it for maximum effectiveness, to the identification and recruitment of lateral attorneys. With rare exception, all decisions should be made within the context of the plan. Of course, the plan itself should be reviewed and modified on a regular basis to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances in the legal market and in the firm itself. Failing to do so will invariably result in lost opportunities. Hiring law students during the summer as clerks or summer associates is a win-win situation when decisions are made within the context of a strategic plan. From the law students’ perspective, these summer jobs offer an excellent opportunity to refine their legal writing and research skills and gain exposure to a real life law firm. From the firm’s perspective, hiring law students provides a research and writing resource during the summer and an opportunity to identify and attract top legal talent for the future. As such, the firm’s efforts in recruiting and carrying out its summer programs are a substantive investment in its future. A law firm’s efforts should begin each year with a meeting of the recruiting department to review the schools where it has interviewed in the past and to decide whether it should add or subtract any schools for the following year. Since students tend to settle either close to where they grew up or where they went to school, it is not generally a good investment of the firm’s resources to send attorneys to a school in another part of the country unless there is reason to believe that a large percentage of the school’s students hail from the firm’s geographical base. Thus, firms may want to consider cutting distant schools from the list for the following year, which will also result in savings in travel expenses and attorney time. The recruitment process Once the on-campus recruiting process has begun, a large firm can interview hundreds of candidates over the course of several months. Ideally, a firm should involve a limited number of representative attorneys with shared aspirations and goals, who follow a uniform process to facilitate evenhanded evaluations. The process typically consists of an initial interview on campus and, for some candidates, a callback interview at the firm. At Cozen O’Connor, we rely principally upon the members of our hiring committee to conduct all of the on-campus and callback interviews. Our hiring committee is diverse, consisting of about 50 attorneys who are drawn from nearly all of the different practice groups, attorney levels and geographic offices of the firm. By drawing on such a diverse group, we ensure that the candidates receive an accurate picture of our firm, its practice groups and its culture. Each member of the hiring committee who meets with a candidate provides his or her evaluation to the recruiting department and all of those evaluations are taken into consideration in making a hiring decision. By relying upon the collective judgment of the group, we maximize our opportunities to identify and attract not only the best and brightest legal talent, but also law students who will complement the firm’s culture and who see the firm as a place to build a legal career. With a summer team in place, the recruiting work is far from over. To make the investment pay off, it is vital to structure a program that will leave the new recruits eager for more and anxious to join the firm. It is very important that the summer program be a reflection of the firm’s practice, work ethic and culture in order to provide a realistic experience. Failure to present an accurate picture will result in higher rates of attrition among associates and increased costs to the firm through recruitment and training of replacement attorneys. A good strategy should include conducting an annual meeting to review the prior year’s summer program and to plan for the upcoming year’s program. Before this meeting, a firm can distribute a survey to the past summer’s associates to get their feedback; it can then use their input to modify and improve its program each year. Firms should structure their programs to provide summer associates with as realistic an experience as possible. Although some firms permit summer associates to pick assignments from a “book,” others structure their program as a rotation through the firm’s various departments. These rotations give the summer associates a rare opportunity to see different areas of the law and enable them to make more informed decisions about the particular areas of law in which they would like to practice upon graduation. Some attorneys can be charged with the responsibility of getting the summer associates out on “field trips,” such as real estate closings, bond deals, depositions or appellate court arguments. Although students do not yet have a license to practice law, getting them out of the library and into the field gives them an excellent opportunity truly to understand the practice of law. Law students also crave feedback, and firms should build it into their programs every step of the way. Firms should consider providing both a midterm and final evaluation to each summer associate. They should also consider requiring each attorney who gives an assignment to provide verbal comment to the summer associate soon after the assignment is completed. Another good strategy is to assign a personal writing coach or mentor who reviews each writing assignment in detail, and offers feedback, on a strictly confidential basis, to the summer associates. Finally, also consider asking the summer associates for their review and comments. Following each assignment, each summer associate can fill out a short evaluation on the assignment in terms of the level of challenge, interest in the work and other relevant issues. This gives the firm an additional opportunity to monitor the progress of each summer associate and also gives the summer associate a sense of empowerment and the message that the firm is truly interested in hearing what he or she has to say. While the recruitment of summer associates is a challenge, the process is ultimately a valuable one. Investing intelligently in a summer associate program will deliver attorneys with leadership potential and the right stuff to keep the firm on a successful track for years to come. Bringing laterals into the fold The hiring of lateral attorneys, although significantly different from hiring law students, should still be done in accordance with a strategic plan. As with the recruitment of law students, the failure to do so will invariably result in unproductive expenditure of a firm’s resources. The expenditures can add up quickly, as more senior attorneys tend to be involved with this kind of hiring than with the recruiting of summer associates. The first step should be to identify a point person responsible for the process every step of the way. Having that initial gatekeeper assures both a smoother process and transition. It is this person’s job to review and collect preliminary information from the candidate. This information includes the candidate’s current compensation and salary expectations. It is also important to ask why the candidate is leaving the present firm and why he or she is interested in joining the new firm. If the candidate would be bringing a book of business, the gatekeeper should obtain information regarding the identities of the likely portable clients and some historical record of revenues generated by each one. It is also important to obtain the names of the candidate’s current clients, not just the portable ones, and adverse parties for purposes of performing the appropriate conflicts check. Since the conflicts laws, as they apply to lateral attorneys, differ from state to state, a firm considering taking on a lateral should be careful to consult with the applicable state’s law before finalizing any deal. A face-to-face meeting can be arranged with the gatekeeper and/or a limited number of designated attorneys once preliminary information shows that a further look is in order. The face-to-face meeting is critical in terms of determining whether the candidate would be a good fit within the firm’s existing culture. It also provides the opportunity to explore any questions raised by the firm’s research about financial or other issues and to discuss a candidate’s status, anticipated administrative responsibilities and other outstanding issues. This is key in helping to prevent misunderstandings if the candidate joins the firm. Due diligence is a vital part of making a successful hire. Due diligence includes contacting individuals, both within and outside of one’s firm, who know the lateral candidate. Recognizing the candidate’s typical desire to keep the process absolutely confidential, it is critical to contact only those sources who can be trusted to maintain the confidentiality of the inquiry. To the extent possible, due diligence also involves verifying financial information provided by the candidate. Firms also can check with the applicable bar associations or other organizations to confirm that the candidate is admitted to practice and is in good standing. In addition, some firms now perform criminal background checks. As part of its due diligence, a firm should also verify whether a candidate has ever been the subject of malpractice or disciplinary claims. Beyond actual claims, a firm should ask the candidate whether he or she is aware of any circumstances that could lead to such a claim in the future. This is important since many malpractice policies are “claims made” policies. As such, the carrier for the firm hiring the lateral attorney may well be obligated to defend the attorney for claims that arose prior to the attorney’s joining the firm. This may be a risk that the firm is willing to take in the bringing on of a new attorney, but it should go into the process aware of the possibility that such a claim may be filed in the future. In short, hiring the best talent to ensure a firm’s continued success requires a strategic plan that reflects the firm’s culture and aspirations. It’s a costly but valuable investment that requires thoughtful planning and execution at every step. Done well, recruiting will yield the talent necessary to meet the firm’s long-term goals and produce a positive work environment that benefits not only the firm’s attorneys and support personnel, but its clients as well. Martin Duffey is a member and the hiring partner of the nationwide firm of Cozen O’Connor, based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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