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A well-planned and executed recruitment program will help your firm stay lean, nimble and more responsive to market demands as the economy recovers. While the economy is uncertain, it is important to build a program that’s fiscally responsible and will ramp up capabilities quickly. The savvy firm’s strategy for cutting costs, and, therefore, costs-per-partner, while promoting maximum market responsiveness, is to diminish or eliminate its law school recruiting program in favor of a stronger and more strategic lateral recruitment program, supplemented by the selective usage of project attorneys. In law school recruiting, highly competitive firms interview second-year law students based on first-year grades for a potential start date 24 months in the future. On top of that, it takes another two to three years for new graduates to become productive, to do work that a highly trained paralegal cannot do, at a rate higher than that of an experienced paralegal. Two years ago, transactional work was in high demand because the economy was booming. Now that has dwindled, and litigation is hot again. How can you react quickly to changing demand when you are relying on a hiring system that requires four or five years of fortune telling? Firm attrition rates and the high price of wining, dining and offering top-dollar salaries necessary to compete for top-of-the-class students only exacerbate the problem. According to the National Association for Law Placement’s “Perspectives on Fall 2001 Law Student Recruiting” report, half of law schools reported a decrease of 5 percent or more in the number of employers on campus, and 36 percent of firms reported visiting fewer schools in their recruiting efforts. Reflecting on figures reported in NALP’s “National Directory of Legal Employers, Patterns & Practices,” even in the boom year between 1999 and 2000, firms increased entry-level hiring by only 5 percent when lateral hiring increased dramatically, to 30.5 percent, resulting in firms hiring in aggregate 36 percent more laterals than entry-level attorneys in 2000. BUILD IT Because of staggering attrition rates — which, according to statistics found in the NALP “Beyond the Bidding War” report now average 15 percent annually and by the fourth year reach 50 percent — firms are finding that many law school graduates don’t know what they want to do or where they want to do it when they’re fresh out of school. It’s so easy to get caught up in law school recruiting if you have top grades. The entire system makes you think that unless you go to a big firm, you are wasting your education. Several years into their jobs, attorneys realize they should have considered other factors, and then, many times, begin to look. While the largest firms appear willing to accept this expensive hiring and training program, savvy firms are beginning to break from this expensive tradition. Firms of 100 attorneys or fewer are much better off eliminating law school recruiting and sticking to a lateral recruitment program that hires the right attorneys at the right time and letting other firms front the high costs of training and recruiting. Corporate legal departments learned this long ago. To build a successful lateral recruitment program: � Define what it is your firm offers that others may not. For mid-size and small firms, there are many offerings that will appeal to the well-trained large-firm associate, including a more entrepreneurial environment; a lesser likelihood of getting pigeonholed into a narrow niche; greater client responsibilities earlier; greater involvement in the management of the firm; more opportunity to steer the firm’s fate; and lower rates enabling business development. � Build these selling points into all aspects of your recruitment program. Brief your recruiters on them. Build them into your interview conversations. And build them into your ads. A great ad campaign effectively emphasizes a firm’s selling points to potential clients and candidates. � Be sure that all your partners know the direction of your lateral recruitment program and the reasoning behind it, and get them to buy into it. Help them realize that “it’s the way we’ve always done it — train our own” may not be the most effective way to attract attorneys for the long-term. � Pick one or two large legal search firms to augment your own efforts. Make sure they understand you, inside and out, and work with you as a hiring partner. � Augment your lateral recruitment program with the judicious use of contract attorneys for crunch times, to cover uncertain long-term needs for specialized expertise and for the ability to win business by having the right talents at the right time. By staying nimble and lean and focusing attorney hiring on well-trained attorneys with mature, developed career goals, astute firms can reduce their recruiting expenses as well as associate attrition. Lauren Eaton Prescott is vice president of Prescott Legal Search, the largest legal search firm in Texas. She is head of the company’s nationwide energy search practice, providing senior-level retained and contingency search services.

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