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The demand for highly qualified associates is stronger than ever. Law firms often find themselves in a position where they must compete against multiple offers for the candidates they want. Some law firms have increased the ante in the contest to attract the best candidates by raising starting salaries. Some firms have quickly followed suit, while other firms have chosen to position themselves as offering a better all-around work experience. At our legal search firm, we have several discussions during the course of a typical week about the merits of both approaches with hiring partners at law firms as well as with corporate clients. Whether the clients are in New York, California, or London, they need to address this issue and live with the effect it will have on their business over the long term. Our team, headed by a professor at New York University, has developed information to help law firms and in-house departments understand the positioning issue. These guidelines can help hiring organizations become more competitive at attracting the candidates they want while remaining more responsible about the long-term implications their actions may have on their bottom line. Packaging your firm to attract the best candidates involves committing to a structured plan that includes developing your firm’s positioning, adapting to it, and reaching out to the legal community. EIGHT FACTORS It’s important to review the critical factors that influence the perceptions your staff members, employees, clients, and others have of your organization and whether they view you in a positive or negative light. Just as important are the key factors in determining how potential candidates view your firm and how they will compare you to their other options. Here are eight critical factors to help most firms achieve the right perceptions. Define a mission statement. Your organization’s mission statement articulates the reason you exist. Is your firm’s mission statement clear, concise, and to the point? Does it reflect what your firm has become since it was written? A good mission statement can be written in just one sentence and should give the firm’s members sufficient latitude to do whatever necessary to build the business. For example, “We are a specialty law firm dealing in corporate legal services” gives firm members far more latitude than “We are specialists in due diligence for litigation in the chemical industry.” When firm members at all levels understand the firm’s reason for being, they more easily work as a unified group to help achieve its goals. When you can present your firm’s mission statement to candidates, you come across as focused and well-managed — and they can quickly see how they might fit into your organization. Define your firm’s character. What does your firm stand for? When your clients think of you, what do they see? When your employees think of you, what do they see? What about the partners, or the candidates you interview? Does your firm have deep-seated traditions you can claim as your defining factors? Perhaps your firm has devoted a significant number of pro bono hours each month to educating corporate executives about the importance of building a diversity hiring program for their organizations. People are impressed by this. When you define what your firm stands for, make it part of your fabric. You see this all the time with companies that market products — they have their logos, their mascots, their slogans. IBM is a classic example of an organization that has successfully used a defining statement — in their case, just one word, “Think,” — to characterize what they stand for. They incorporate the word in their branding and even use it to name some of their products — for example, the “ThinkPad” computer. Claim ownership of your space in the legal community. Can you claim ownership of part of the legal space within which your firm functions? Sometimes this comes naturally. For example, are you the “must hire” firm for certain types of matters? Have you developed a reputation as a specialty or boutique firm? Sometimes this comes by design. It is healthy to identify the space you want to own — and even healthier to work toward that ownership. It will help you organize your approach to obtaining new business and will act as a talking point and focus for your hiring efforts. Ask: Would you want to work at your firm if you were starting over? When is the last time you or others objectively reviewed what it is like to work at your firm? When you walk in the door, what do you see? Is the atmosphere cheerful? Is there a positive energy? What do your offices look like? Of course, this is a matter of personal preference, but does it represent your firm in the way you perceive it should? You may want to portray your firm as an organization that focuses on the work, not on accoutrements. Your offices may reflect this image. It is possible some candidates may find this disconcerting. Is this acceptable to you? If this is a conscious decision, it’s fine. If, on the other hand, it’s the result of an evolutionary process due to neglect, and it has an impact on candidates, perhaps you may wish to address this issue. And what about the culture of your firm? Is it wound up tight? Is it collegial? What do the people working there think? Do people work together as a team? Is there infighting? Is there anything you can do to improve the culture? How would a new hire react to joining your firm? Most people can accept compromise when it comes to the “look” of a firm, but most people cannot accept a culture that is threatening, wearing, and uncomfortable. Finally, you might review the lifestyle new hires will experience. You might begin with the “intake” process: how new members are brought into the fold. Does anyone help them become acclimated? Are they expected to find out things on their own — to dive in and hope for the best? What about your firm’s expectations regarding billable hours and pro bono work? Are your firm’s demands equal to those of the other firms you compete with for the best candidates? Is there anything you can do to give your firm an edge — such as establishing a rainmaking training program to help associates network, bring in business more quickly, establish their value to the firm, and enhance their early prospects for partnership? Look at opportunities and expectations. When you interview candidates, what opportunities can you speak of that your firm offers? Do young lawyers get to work closely with senior partners sooner and with greater frequency? Do you have a strong record of lawyers making partner in a shorter period of time than at other firms? Sometimes smaller firms offer unusual employee benefits. Are there any you can describe during the interview process? Does everyone receive free health-club membership? Do you offer special perks such as paying for continuing-education courses or bestowing annual awards? Do you have a well-defined plan for remuneration and career growth that you can present? Structure and defined direction can be very powerful lures. A plan that includes the firm’s expectations and the rewards for fulfilling them can be very comforting to a young person at the beginning of a career. Training is another important aspect of career growth. Does your firm offer on-going training, or will your firm reimburse associates for approved training obtained at a university or other educational institution? Presenting your plan in writing during the interview process shows your firm’s commitment to its new hires. Once you begin to develop satisfactory answers to these questions, it will be important to devise a plan to ensure that you benefit from implementing any strategies you believe will be instrumental in helping you achieve your goal. Remember that the process of implementing strategies demands top-to-bottom cooperation. Implementing the changes you believe will help attract the best candidates may demand an effort that touches upon every department and individual at your firm. It is always a good practice to get firm members to buy into the process right from the start. Involve as many key members of your firm as you can — at least in the preliminary discussions. The introspective process can have a positive effect on the organization’s morale. Once you have developed your plan, be sure to introduce it to your firm’s members. Educate them about the steps you intend to take. Win their cooperation. This will help to ensure that all firm members speak with one voice. Reach out to the legal community. When you are satisfied that you have addressed the elements within your firm that can improve your success in attracting the best candidates, you may wish to examine your program for reaching out into the community to put your firm on strong candidates’ radar screens. Begin this process by developing a team responsible for your outreach program. Have members attend law-school job fairs or speak in law-school classes. Consider offering a stipend or scholarship to a deserving student at one or more law schools where you will be invited to a ceremony to make the presentation and can network with students. Participate in organizations where prospective candidates may attend meetings because they want to meet representatives of law firms like yours. Encourage firm members to write articles for publication and to speak at events and community meetings. By putting your firm “out there,” you send an important message that you are experts and leaders. Personalize the interview process. Just as candidates promote themselves to be your best selection, you should think in terms of promoting your firm as the best place for them to practice. Take a tip from successful marketers and personalize the experience. Surely you have sat through cookie-cutter interviews where the process consisted of friendly but canned questions and “flat” discussion. Is this the impression you want to leave with candidates you want to attract? Take advantage of the fact that you know quite a bit about each candidate before you meet. Add to that the knowledge you gain during your conversations with them. Interviewers during the first round can pass along important information to second- and third-round interviewers that can invigorate the interview process by focusing on the candidates’ preferences and how your firm will help them achieve their goals. For example, when you learn that a candidate is interested in working on corporate-litigation matters, use your litigation department as the focus of at least part of your conversation. If you can, present the success of a member of your corporate-litigation department as an example. Get the candidate to envision himself as part of your team. Packaging your firm to attract the best candidates entails considerable thought and may result in readdressing many of the aspects of your firm. It is worthwhile to take the time and effort because the candidates you attract today are the future of your firm tomorrow.
Carrie Printz is the founder and managing director of David Carrie, a legal search firm specializing in career counseling and the placement of attorneys in the United States and throughout the world. She is based in New York.

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