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The competition for hiring quality attorneys, either right out of law school or through lateral moves, has never been tighter. The unemployment rate is low, compensation packages are increasing and lawyers have many appealing options in the job market. It has never been more important for firms and corporations to make strong hires: lawyers from good schools, with high academics, who can perform effective work and relate well with fellow associates, partners and clients. Yet, that’s easier said than done. More and more, employers need to look to qualified minority attorneys to help meet their staffing needs. While such hires may once have been considered the “politically correct” thing to do, hiring more minority attorneys makes good business sense. Besides their technical abilities as lawyers, they may belong to different business or community-minded organizations and attract a diverse set of potential clients and contacts. Additionally, many firms have institutional clients that are now demanding more diversity, and many corporations are obligated by federal law to diversify. Seeking experienced attorneys: lateral hires are an entirely different animal than law students or recent graduates who may be entering the work environment for the first time. While most top firms and corporations certainly demand excellent academic credentials, preferably from top law schools, they are also interested in the relevant work experiences acquired at previous or existing jobs. Even attorneys with one to three years in the workplace come with knowledge that can only be acquired through on-the-job training, and far more substantial contacts than law school acquaintances. Law firms and corporate law departments with demanding hiring criteria can broaden the talent pool of available attorneys, particularly qualified minorities, by having a two-fold focus: first on law school credentials, and second, on post-law school experiences. While hiring guidelines include some combination of grades, status of school, law review, judicial clerkships and other criteria, emphasis also should be placed on the candidates’ levels of big firm or corporate training, portability of business, proven ability in practice, contacts and memberships, and involvement in professional organizations. Employers should also be willing to expand their searches outside of the local area. Qualified attorneys are currently earning their stripes outside of Texas and may even be willing to trade in their wingtips for a pair of cowboy boots and the opportunity to practice in the Lone Star State. Recognizing top talent and acting on it: occasionally, young minority attorneys work on similar projects or even compete against attorneys in other firms or corporations who recognize their talents and ultimately recruit them to make a lateral move. While this information may be “filed away” by a hiring attorney until an appropriate position becomes available, employers may be better served engaging in a “talent hire” and offering a position to the impressive attorney whom they see in action before the opportunity has passed. Promoting a minority-friendly environment: as is the case in hiring law students, existing minority associates partners and counsel should be involved in the recruiting process for lateral hires. They should be tapped for their professional contacts and used as effective resources throughout the process. While this philosophy helps promote a diverse workplace and a minority-friendly environment, it may also put the candidate more at ease during the recruiting process. While all attorneys within a law firm or corporation should be encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities, such as professional organizations, minority attorneys should be involved in special, minority-sponsored functions and represent the employer in these settings. The employer can promote goodwill within these diverse communities, for instance, by buying tables at such events and making sure that attorneys and clients participate. Important contacts are made in these environments. Likewise, potential business can be brought in from relationships established at these events. In addition to joining the minority organizations, attorneys should be encouraged to serve on committees and take on leadership roles. How can this be done without eating into the bottom line? Well, no one said it was supposed to be easy; if it were, everyone would be doing it. Don’t be afraid to ask. When a diverse pool of candidates is being sought, the hiring attorney or committee should take the extra step to utilize various professional resources to aid in their talent search. Local bar organizations, professional recruiters and other attorneys are always good resources that can usually forward names and information about qualified minority candidates. In the current environment with the economy strong, the unemployment rate low and the competition for qualified minority candidates intense, employers must tap all their known resources in their search for lateral hires. M. Tish Hinojosa is a legal recruiter in the Austin office of Prescott Legal Search, where she specializes in permanent lateral attorney search. She previously practiced as a litigator with the Austin-based firm of Clark, Thomas & Winters. Hinojosa graduated from the University of Houston Law Center in 1996 and is an active member of the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin.

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