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Salary raises are top-of-the-mind in industry publications and law school cafes. They make for good headlines and lots of press, but when it comes to recruiting top-tier candidates, effective recruiters focus on what their midsize firm stands for-what it represents to the people who work there. In other words, its positioning within the legal marketplace. Frequently, the key selling point to recruits is not salary but rather the whole picture-the many aspects of what a job, a career and a personal life mean to the individuals being courted. Recruiting is as much about marketing the firm as it is about purchasing the talent. Firms compete for a finite pool of candidates. Candidates shop for the firm best suited to their perception of what they want out of life in the short term, and sometimes in the long run. Positioning is a tried-and-true practice employed by marketers in commercial ventures to help attract new customers and retain their loyalty. To establish proper positioning, the marketers focus on what their firms and products must become-as perceived by the targeted consumers-before they can successfully market to them. Law firms can take their cue from successful marketers and, in turn, successfully position themselves for the candidates they want to attract. Law firms with well-defined positioning stand a better chance of attracting and retaining the first-year associates they want to recruit and the top lateral talent they want to lure away from the competition. Here are two basic rules for good positioning. First, the firm should define a unique and appropriate position statement for each targeted group. A firm will need to position itself in one way to attract graduating law school students and in yet another to lure fourth-year associates from competitive organizations. Second, the firm should write an effective position statement in one carefully constructed sentence. If it requires more than one sentence, it is not sufficiently clear and directed and will not be easily implemented. First-year associates will have different perceptions of the firm than experienced associates and, certainly, partners. Members of each category of potential recruits have different needs, wants and expectations. Law firms should devise position statements, therefore, that address specific groups within the firm and establish the relationship between each of those groups and the firm. A position statement should not be confused with the firm’s mission statement. The mission statement is the direction established for the entire firm. It is intended to provide a cohesive approach to the firm’s existence. Position statements must conform to the firm’s mission statement. A position statement for attracting first-year associates to a firm specializing in litigation might read as follows: “We provide the training, mentoring and hands-on experience to develop first-year associates into outstanding litigators, while providing good balance between work expectations and lifestyle issues.” Establish broad goals While the position statement is not intended to provide the specific details about how members of the firm will achieve the positioning, it does establish goals to be attained by members responsible for fulfilling its promise to first-year associates the firm hires. Positioning evolves from an enterprise-wide effort to identify the key, experience-defining elements for attorneys who work there. These elements are then communicated to candidates via a positioning statement. Examples include career development, future opportunity, lifestyle experience, job satisfaction, practice specialties and financial rewards. Recruiters at midsize firms mention career development more frequently than any other advantage their firm offers. Young attorneys find greater opportunities for more consistent partner contact, training and mentoring. When a firm’s practice areas coincide with an associate’s specific interests, this can be viewed by the prospect as a strong opportunity to develop a broad background in the specialty more quickly than would be possible at a larger firm. Similarly, midsize firms often are more flexible than larger firms in accepting and even encouraging business development during earlier stages of an attorney’s career. They also tend to be more willing to accept smaller client matters-a plus for young attorneys starting out. On another point of comparison with larger firms, the lower partner-to-associate ratio at many midsize firms provides opportunities for associates to work directly with partners more often, to get to know clients and build relationships earlier in their careers. When firms control the number of attorneys at each level, increased possibilities for partnership tend to develop. Lifestyle issues are important advantages many midsize firms have over larger firms for attracting top talent. Midsize firms frequently offer a more collegial environment in which attorneys get to know their colleagues and have more control over their work schedule and lifestyle. Job satisfaction is a compelling reason why many attorneys join midsize firms. They tend to have more responsibility than attorneys at the same level in larger firms. They have more input in controlling their practice and the type of work they do, and they have more involvement in the daily operation of their firm. Positions at midsize firms provide more of a whole-picture experience. Some midsize firms offer first-year associates salaries equal to those found at larger firms. Other midsize firms do not feel compelled to match salaries. They believe their total package puts them in a strong competitive position to attract the talent they want to hire. Once a firm has established its position statement for a recruitment segment, that message must be communicated throughout the enterprise to ensure that every member of the firm understands his or her role in attaining the positioning for the segments they deal with. The position statement should become a standard that is conveyed at each touch point the firm experiences with prospective hires for the targeted segment. Today, many attorneys joining firms have shorter-term relationship expectations than was true in the past. Treating these short-term thinkers as a separate segment with a unique position statement can help the firm address their special needs without interfering with the firm’s approach to attorneys taking a longer frame of reference. This also affords the firm the opportunity to attempt to convert specific members of this group into long-term employees, if warranted. While a law firm’s mission remains consistent over time, the strength of its positioning is that it has the ability to adapt to change. Change can come from adding a new office in a different type of environment; it can come from changing attitudes among law school students; it can result from a different client mix; and it certainly can be affected by social and economic factors. A total package Good positioning first examines the group it is directed at and determines what is important to members of that group at this time. It then combines the advantages of the firm into a total package to address the interests of group members and provide them with the law firm experience they want. Since good positioning demands an enterprisewide effort, it can influence relationships between segment members and their colleagues throughout the firm. Midsize firms are more amenable to accepting and implementing these changes than are larger firms. The result of good positioning is a firm that is in sync with the times, in which attorneys are enthusiastic about coming to work because they recognize that the opportunities provided at their firm are in concert with their individual career and lifestyle interests. Good positioning is a powerful tool that midsize law firms can use to compete with larger firms that focus on salary raises and may not consider work and lifestyle experiences to be of significant interest to the young attorneys they hire. Some attorneys want the “big name” on their r�sum�. They are not necessarily the best candidates for midsize firms. When it comes to a total experience, however, midsize firms can compete very effectively with the larger firms-and even firms their own size-for top talent when they follow the simple guidelines presented to position themselves for recruiting success. Introspection is an important first step. Law firm leaders should begin by identifying the key factors that make their firm what it is. How? The best way is to ask the attorneys working there. A short, quick, but formal survey-anonymous, of course-can point out the things attorneys at the firm like and dislike. Planners should never rely on senior managers’ perception of what these may be. Surveys should be tailored by category so that each respondent is asked questions he or she is capable of answering. This means a separate set of questions for junior and senior associates, and for junior and senior partners. Devising position statements The questions should explore each element that will influence the positioning of the firm. They should be designed to elicit clear expressions of the respondents’ perception of the topic at hand. It’s a good idea to include no more than four to-the-point multiple-choice questions about each element, with five answer choices for each question, using a simple rating rubric in which 1 corresponds to the highest, 2 to above average, 3 to average, 4 to below average and 5 to the lowest. A question for first- through fifth- year associates might be: “Rate the value of the mentoring you have received as it applies to its impact on your career plans.” A question for partners might be: “Considering your personal remunerative goals, how well has the firm’s cross-selling efforts helped you meet your expectations?” Each question addresses an element important to a specific segment, and can be answered using the five-tier rating rubric suggested. Law firm managers should get their colleagues to buy into the value of the positioning survey. They should make sure their colleagues understand its purpose: “to understand who we are and what we stand for as perceived by ourselves.” Further, they should explain that the results will be used to develop an enterprisewide effort to embellish on the good points and uncover areas that the firm can work to improve. Managers should also tell colleagues that they will share summarized results with them. The importance of maintaining total objectivity when analyzing the results cannot be overstated. This exercise will help ensure that a firm is in touch with the people working there. It will help managers learn what their firm stands for as different elements of the firm perceive it. This is the firm’s positioning. It will vary for each segment that received a separate set of questions. The information will help firms identify key aspects of their positioning strategies, which will help them understand how to attract the best candidates at every level. The process can give a clearer understanding of a firm’s perceived strengths and weaknesses. And it doesn’t matter whether these perceptions are true-because in positioning, perception is the truth. Neither does it matter whether managers are pleased or displeased with the results of the survey. What does matter is that now they can write their firm’s position statement for each attorney category with the authority and conviction that at this point in time, this is who the firm is. That understanding puts the firm in a position to market itself to attract qualified candidates who want the experience the firm offers. The fit between the firm’s positioning, as perceived by individual prospective hires, and what they want from the place where they will practice, will determine the firm’s success at attracting the candidates it wants. Carrie Printz is an attorney and the founder and managing director of David Carrie LLC, a legal search firm specializing in career counseling and the placement of attorneys within the United States and abroad. She can be reached at [email protected].

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