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Most law firms have perfected the art of recruiting at the law student level: Send lawyers to law schools, exchange witty (or dull) banter with a number of future lawyers, bring a percentage of the candidates to the firm’s office for interviews, make offers and await the flood of acceptances. Firms of all sizes dedicate large amounts of time and expense to recruiting new graduates. Few firms work as hard to develop a system for recruiting lateral talent. In contrast to the recruiting of inexperienced law students, firms competing for lateral talent face a more educated, and often more skeptical, audience, which makes it even more critical that the process work smoothly and cohesively. Too often, poor communication, bureaucratic processes, disorganization and misinformation thwart even the best firms’ efforts. Below is a compilation of anecdotes drawn from actual incidents as a 10-step how-not-to guide on lateral recruiting. • Harry Highbiller’s secretary informs him that Lee Lateral is waiting to see him in the lobby. Harry, always conscious of his billable hours and wanting to look important, keeps working away for another 30 minutes before asking his secretary to bring Lee into his office. Throughout the interview, Harry keeps his eyes on his computer in case he receives an important e-mail. At one point, Harry even pulls out his keyboard drawer and begins composing an e-mail message. Harry keeps the conversation focused on his own accomplishments rather than telling Lee about the firm or trying to get to know Lee. Harry does ask Lee a couple of questions about his current firm’s clients and recent partner attrition, but those questions only make Lee more uncomfortable. • Junior Partner knows he’s supposed to interview a lateral candidate this morning, but no one ever confirmed for him the time of the interview or the name of the candidate. As Junior stands up to head to the restroom, he is greeted at his office by Emily Enthusiastic, a lateral candidate for an of counsel position. As the conversation unfolds, Emily realizes that Junior was not expecting her and has not even read her r�sum�. In fact, the firm’s hiring partner forgot to circulate it to the people conducting the interviews that day. As the interview concludes, Emily becomes anxious when Junior tells her she seems overqualified to be an associate at the firm. Emily leaves the interview feeling confused and unwanted. • Diane Disgruntled has had a terrible week. On Tuesday, her firm denied her proposal for a reduced hours schedule, and yesterday she learned that she will have to work all weekend for the fifth consecutive week. Lucy Lateral didn’t realize that she was walking into a minefield when she entered Diane’s office for her interview on Friday afternoon. Diane was simply the wrong person to interview laterals that day. She had such antipathy for the firm that she thought it appropriate to tell Lucy that she would be replacing someone who the firm does not think is strong enough and that Lucy should expect to work long and unpredictable hours. • The partners at Midsize Firm think that Joe Clerk is a smart hire � a two-year federal clerkship, strong academic credentials and a pre-law school career that could generate some new clients. Joe has visited the firm’s offices twice and had dinner with a few of the firm’s lawyers on a third occasion, so he anticipates receiving an offer shortly. He has only one lingering concern. Even though the firm seems to assign each associate to a partner, no one ever discussed with whom he would work if he joined the firm. When the partners gather to approve the terms of Joe’s offer, it quickly becomes clear that there is a strong disagreement among them about how much salary and seniority credit Joe deserves for his clerkship and new business leads. Larry Loyal Partner is particularly upset that many of the partners want to put Joe ahead of Larry’s associate on the partnership track. To complicate matters further, none of the partners will commit to currently having enough work to warrant assigning Joe to them. But if the firm doesn’t hire Joe, it may burn a bridge with a prominent local judge, not to mention a potential future superstar lawyer. Meanwhile, weeks pass, and Joe, who expected an offer, hears nothing. • Cindy Collegial, a junior associate at a large firm, just received an offer from a boutique firm. She is hopeful that at a smaller firm she will feel more connected to her co-workers because she often feels isolated in her current job. As Cindy considers her offer from the boutique firm, she realizes that she only interviewed with the firm’s partners. She worries that the firm seems to be hiding its associates and feels uncertain that this firm offers the atmosphere she wants. • Gary Go-Getter was thrilled to receive a phone call from a recruiter calling on behalf of High Profits Per Partner LLP. The firm knew of Gary’s reputation and believed his book of business would be an excellent complement to its current client base. Gary admired High Profits Per Partner, and he was flattered that the firm was considering building a new section around his practice. Gary quickly completed and returned the firm’s questionnaire. Weeks went by before the recruiter called to schedule Gary’s initial interview. Following that interview, Gary waited several more weeks for feedback from the firm. He thought the interview had gone well, but the waiting was demoralizing. A couple of months passed before the firm finally requested a second round of interviews. In the meantime, Gary had gone from feeling special and flattered to feeling rejected, which made Gary much more receptive to a call from another recruiter calling on behalf of Not-Quite-So-High Profits Per Partner LLP. Ironically, High Profits Per Partner was extremely interested in Gary all along. If only it had explained its process and communicated more immediately, it may not have lost Gary and his practice to a competing firm. Reputation isn’t enough • BigFirm LLP’s corporate section desperately needed to rebuild its associate ranks, which recently lost three midlevel associates to in-house legal departments of institutional firm clients. Even though law students had climbed over one another to get a job at the firm during law school, BigFirm’s partners were stunned at how few lateral candidates seemed interested in joining the firm now. “But we’re BigFirm,” thought the head of the corporate section, “everyone wants to work here.” It never occurred to BigFirm that it was one of five large firms in town recruiting midlevel associates, and that simply relying on the firm’s reputation would not be enough. BigFirm failed to realize it needed to articulate specific selling points about the firm and its corporate practice: the role of midlevel associates on transactions, the specific deals that were on the horizon, the prospects for midlevel associates to take leadership positions within the firm, even the trend of associates moving in-house with firm clients. Instead of distinguishing itself from its competitors in the war for talent, the firm operated short-handed for months while waiting for a lateral who might be impressed with the firm name. • Regional Firm LLP was excited about extending an offer to Tony Third-Year. The firm knew that Tony’s current firm paid below market, so Regional Firm’s partners expected they could snatch up Tony easily by offering him a pay raise from his current salary. Tony knew that Regional Firm paid its third-year associates somewhere within a $25,000 range, and he hoped that the firm would offer him at least the middle of the range because he had first-chair trial experience and received rave annual reviews from his current firm. Tony was disappointed to receive his offer, which he knew was at the low end of the range for his class year. Even though Tony’s interest in Regional Firm was about more than a pay raise, the low offer caused him to feel undervalued. He wondered if he would always have something to prove if he moved to Regional Firm. Ultimately, Tony decided to stay where he was already treated like a star. • MegaFirm LLP opened its new Gotham City office with great fanfare. The firm plucked four high-profile partners from a prominent, locally based national firm and hoped to build the Gotham City office up to 20 lawyers by year-end. MegaFirm decided to cover its bases by contacting every local legal search firm about its hiring plans. Within weeks, every associate in Gotham City whose credentials and practice area fit the firm’s hiring plans received cold calls from multiple headhunters. With the first call, the associates felt special and were intrigued about the new firm in town. By the third or fourth call, the associates began to wonder why MegaFirm was so desperate. To make matters worse, some of the headhunters shared conflicting information about MegaFirm and its local plans. Over time, MegaFirm’s managing partner began to wonder why the firm could attract top local partners but seems unable to attract star associates. • Despite its inability to distinguish itself, BigFirm somehow convinced Molly Manhattan, a fourth-year corporate associate who recently moved to town, to join the firm. The corporate partners at BigFirm forgot that Molly was scheduled to start today. The process of giving notice to her New York firm and moving took nearly two months, and the BigFirm partners had not checked in with Molly since she accepted their offer. On her first day, Molly was greeted by someone from the firm’s attorney hiring office and then escorted to her new office, where she waited patiently for a greeting or an assignment or even an e-mail from her new colleagues. Eventually, a senior associate visited her office and dumped some draft offering documents on her desk. Unceremoniously pulled into her first deal at her new workplace, Molly hoped that the firm might have more formal plans for training and integrating her soon. Sellers in a buyers’ market With associate attrition and turnover more a part of law firm practice than ever before, putting one’s best foot forward to attract top lateral talent has never been more important. But the “convince us why we should hire you” approach that may work for law students will not work with more sophisticated and experienced lateral candidates. When it comes to lateral recruiting, firms should consider themselves sellers in a buyer’s market � any misstep or misinformation along the way could mean the difference between getting and losing many potential hires. Stacy Humphries is a principal in the Houston office of MS Legal Search, a Texas-based attorney search firm, and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants. She practiced law for eight years before becoming a legal recruiter.

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