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Not long after you join a law firm (and sometimes even while you are still in law school) you may be asked to participate in the firm’s recruiting efforts. Although you may have just spent the past year or so engaged in recruitment from the position of a candidate for employment, you may not be fully prepared to participate effectively as a junior recruiter for the firm. This article aims to provide some insights into the recruitment process from the perspective of a junior recruiter. Begin with the recognition that the firm may have several (possibly competing) goals in recruitment. The most basic goal is to attract and hire the most qualified candidates possible. By definition, that goal implies its opposite: to reject candidates who are not well-qualified. What qualifications matter, and how they are to be assessed, of course, may be a matter for considerable disagreement. Thus, long term, the firm’s general goal will be to establish a recruitment process that is reasonable, transparent and fair. The recruitment process is not simply a matter of separating “good” and “bad” candidates. It involves judgment. And how those judgments are made reflects on the overall image of the firm. Your participation in recruitment thus can contribute to (or detract from) the success of the firm. You should, therefore, take the process seriously. Keep in mind that the firm may have a great deal of information available on the subject of recruitment. Some firms hold seminars or training sessions for recruiters. Many have written guidelines and tips for conducting an interview. Almost all provide information on the legal aspects of recruiting (itemizing such things as questions that may be considered inappropriate or discriminatory). Review these materials before you begin to participate as a recruiter. And if you have questions about the firm’s recruitment practices, you should ask them of the recruitment supervisors as soon as they occur to you. Beyond such general preparation, you should spend time thinking about the questions you are likely to be asked by law students, summer associates, and others with whom you may interact in the recruitment process. Some of these questions may be beyond your ken at first. (Who are the firm’s largest clients? What are the biggest growth areas of practice? What has been the effect of the recent recession on the firm’s business?) You do not need to know the precise answer to every substantive question, but generally the more you know about the firm and its business, the more comfortable you will feel in the recruiting process. Often, simply reading the firm’s promotional material will provide you with the basic information on which most inquiries occur. If you get a question in an interview where you do not know the answer, say so, and offer to get the answer (often easily done simply by asking the next interviewer the question, as part of the hand-off of the candidate). If the question is important enough that you should know the answer, look it up after the interview (or ask someone about it) and make sure you know the answer for the next interview. In many instances, however, law students and other employment candidates really do not expect a lot of substantive information from junior recruiters. Instead, their questions are much more personal. (What is it like to work here? What are the other lawyers like? Why did you come here?) You should be fully prepared for these kinds of questions. Often, the specific answers to the questions are much less important than the emotional tone conveyed. Most employment candidates want to work at firms where lawyers seem friendly, up-beat and enthusiastic. If you cannot convey such a tone (because you are having a hectic day, because you have something else that really needs to be done, or otherwise) you probably should not be involved in recruiting, at least for that day. Tell your recruiting supervisor what the problem is, and ask to be excused. SHARED INTERESTS Remember also that most candidates want to work at a firm where at least some of the lawyers share some of their background and interests. Responding to this need also requires some homework. Read the candidate’s resume, in advance of the interview, and see how many points you have in common. If these points might not be obvious to the candidate, bring some of them up during your conversation. You may also want to mention some other lawyers in the firm who share some of the candidate’s background and interests. Most employment candidates, moreover, are interested in working at a firm that views each lawyer as an individual, rather than as a fungible work unit. Some of the factors that may affect a candidate in this regard are the firm’s training and development programs. You should be prepared to discuss such programs (at least in terms of how they have affected you). But more, most candidates are flattered when a recruiter expresses more than a superficial interest in them. Strive, therefore, to avoid domination of the conversation. Listen at least as much as you talk. Be “interested” just as much as you are “interesting.” Pay special attention to the down times in the process (leaving your office to take the candidate to the next interview, waiting to be seated for the recruiting lunch). These are points when the candidate will often see you turning off the pre-programmed interview persona, and lapsing into something that is much more aloof. Keep the conversation going at all times. Keep at least a few questions at hand, to be asked whenever the discussion flags. The sense you should leave with every candidate is that you would, if time permitted, want to keep on developing a relationship with them. That sense, of the potential for a positive relationship with many lawyers in a firm, is precisely what most employment candidates are seeking. Other factors being equal (size of firm, location, areas of practice and other objective factors) this intangible sense of the possibility of belonging to a community may tip the scales in the employment decision for many candidates. In the end, of course, the firm cannot hire all the lawyers it recruits. Your job, in the evaluation process that leads to an employment decision, is generally not to assess whether the firm has a specific need for a particular employment candidate, but whether the candidate appears to have all the essential qualifications required for the job. In commenting on a candidate’s qualifications (in a written interview note or otherwise) pay special attention to any information you may have developed that does not appear on the resume. Consider also giving your assessment of the candidate’s real interest in the firm. It is sometimes easier for those who have recently gone through the interviewing process to tell which candidates are truly interested in a firm, and which are interviewing indiscriminately, or who are perhaps merely interview “tourists.” FOLLOWING UP If you are sold on a particular candidate (and the remainder of the recruiting team agrees) then do not let the on-campus or office interview be the end of your recruiting endeavors. Often, a follow-up telephone call after an offer is extended can be a crucial step in successful recruitment. Again, show some real interest in the candidate. (Do you have more questions about the firm? What factors are you weighing? Do you want to speak to anyone else at the firm?) In some instances, informal follow-up meetings (for drinks or dinner, for example) may also be appropriate. These efforts obviously take time and resources. Thus, it is of great benefit to be sure that the employment candidates on whom you bestow such extra attention are well-qualified, and also reasonably likely to accept an offer if it is extended. The recruiting process, moreover, does not end once a candidate accepts an offer. Summer associates accepted into the firm are essentially on a multi-week recruiting tour. In addition to doing substantive work, they will meet lawyers in the firm, which will help them to make decisions about where they want to work full-time after school. As a junior associate, your contact with summer associates may be a key aspect of their experience and impressions of the firm. Working with summer associates, socializing with them, getting to know them and answering their questions about the firm; all are vital in developing the positive impressions and nurturing the bonds that will encourage qualified candidates to return to the firm for permanent employment. As you leave law school and enter the full-time practice of law, you begin to realize that legal practice is not confined to the research and writing skills you developed in law school. As you take part in the recruiting process at a law firm, you are taking part in the management of the firm. Law firms consist of people, whose talent and dedication determine the success or failure of the business. Recruiting talented, dedicated lawyers to work at a firm is a critical function. Even as a very junior lawyer, you can have a real impact on that function. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue and co-director of the New Associates Group there. The views expressed are solely those of the author, and should not be attributed to the author’s firm or its clients.

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