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To say that the legal world has become a revolving door is an understatement. According to NALP, the overall volume of lateral hiring in the United States increased by more than 11% in 2007, the fifth consecutive annual gain. Judith N. Collins, “ Lateral Hiring is Up in General � But Not Everywhere,” NALP Bulletin, March 2008. Lateral hiring of associates accounted for more than three-quarters of the total. And they keep on moving. NALP reports that 73% of laterals leave a firm within four years, compared to 56% of entry-level associates. NALP Foundation, Update on Associate Attrition: Findings From a National Study of Law Firm Associate Hiring and Departures � 2006., May 2007, Table 11 and Table 19. The reasons behind the mobility are varied. Common themes include frustration over the lack of transparency regarding partnership potential, the desire for a greater professional role and the feeling that increasing levels of responsibility are not forthcoming. In addition, more firms are competing for top talent, while the number of lawyers graduating from top law schools has remained flat. With so many lawyers coming and going, and the costs associated with hiring and replacing them so high, how does a firm find the best talent? Some firms rely merely on good luck or a particularly favorable economic climate. Others, on their stellar reputation. What it really takes is hard work. A recruiting program in which partners are intimately involved in the hiring process should lower a firm’s expenses, reduce turnover and improve the chances that the candidates chosen will accept the offer and will be right for the job. Unfortunately, too many firms approach lateral hiring the same way they do entry-level recruiting. They’re used to the annual on-campus recruitment interview process, where one firm representative spends approximately 20 minutes each with 20 different candidates. As the numbers demonstrate, successful lateral recruitment is essential to a firm’s success. Accordingly, it is important to learn and to implement better techniques to ensure that a firm achieves its goals. First, law firm leaders need to know why they are hiring. What exact need is the firm trying to fill? Does the hiring partner have an ideal candidate in mind? How will the attorney fit into the firm, what level of experience is sought, what is the relevance of the candidate’s academic background (in some cases, the firm needs to be willing to look beyond academic credentials, since the top students in a graduating class are not always the ones who will work out best for the firm) and with which clients will the candidate most likely be interacting? It is helpful to create a model of the ideal associate � based on the job description and the qualities of other high-performing attorneys who have held the same position. The model should spell out the exact skill set, background and experience required. In addition, the firm should create a list of the personality traits and work habits that have proven successful in the past, regardless of the position held. Different departments can have distinctive internal cultures and group dynamics, so that needs to be kept in mind. The goal is to help identify those who will and will not fit both the firm’s and the specific department’s particular style. Second, firm leaders need to realize the importance of candidate interviews. Some individuals conduct interviews just to see if they like the person, not to determine whether the candidate actually has what it takes to make it in the law firm. The interview is a huge opportunity and should be used to discover a candidate’s values, motivations and relevant transferable work experience. Everyone who will be interviewing the candidate should have a copy of the job description as well as the model or competency profile. Firms hiring lateral associates (rather than graduates straight out of law school) are at an advantage, since they are able to review the associate’s current law firm experience and attitudes toward professional work, and determine how this particular individual will fit into their system. Some firms use behavioral interviewing techniques that give candidates a chance to describe how they have solved specific work-related problems. This enables the interviewer to see the candidate’s analytical and presentation skills. Some firms use personality or psychological tests. For the latter, candidates generally are asked to react to hypothetical situations and then their responses are analyzed for attitude and motivation. The three W’s Even without special techniques and tests, a firm can still make its interview process more effective by having partners commit to the time it takes to do it right (interview time must be seen as an investment in the firm’s future) and by breaking the questions down into three main categories � why, what and who. The “why” questions cover basic motivational issues. For instance: • “Why did you go to law school?” • “Why did you elect to join your current firm?” • “Why did you select your practice area?” • “Why do you want to leave your present firm?” • “Why are you interested in joining this firm?” After this portion of the interview, the interviewer should know whether the candidate is self-motivated; is goal-oriented; has mature decision-making skills; can articulate sound reasons for leaving his or her current firm; and has conducted sufficient due diligence on the firm and the specific practice group in which he or she is interested. The firm wants candidates who are enthusiastic about their work, their careers and the firm. The “what” questions help the firm drill down into candidates’ values and experiences and provide more opportunities for them to demonstrate their legal knowledge and work experience. • “What are you currently working on?” • “What do you believe you can add to this firm?” • “What would your current firm’s partners say about you and your work product?” • “What would your fellow associates say about you?” • “What exactly do you want to achieve by making this change?” By focusing on the individual’s work, practice, development and training, the interviewer should gain insight into his or her ability (or inability) to add value to the firm. Here are some of the things that should be revealed during this part of the interview: Can candidates clearly express their career goals? Can they explain what they are working on? Are they able to provide details about their responsibilities? Do they appear confident in their abilities? Are they proud of their work? Are they team players? Are their skills transferable to this firm? Do they seem interested in continuing to develop their career? Will they satisfy the firm’s current needs and be a worthwhile investment for the future? The firm should try to find lawyers whose goals complement its own. The “who” questions enable the firm to address the candidates on a more personal level and allow them to talk about themselves, to show what type of people they are. • “Tell me about yourself.” • “How would your friends describe you?” • “How would your work colleagues describe you?” • “What are your favorite movies? Sports teams? Hobbies?” • “How do you like to spend your time outside the office?” This helps interviewers discover whether they and others in the firm would be comfortable with this person. Would one be able to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the candidate during 14-hour workdays? Sit next to him or her on a cross-country flight? One should be able to tell if this person will get along with everyone and be a productive member of the team. Through it all, the interviewer should be sure to avoid legal land mines. It’s a good idea to consult the human resources department for guidance about the types of questions one should not ask. Selling the firm In addition to giving the candidates the opportunity to sell themselves to the firm, part of the purpose of the interview is to sell the firm to them. After all, the firm is competing for increasingly scarce talent. It needs to sell candidates on the advantages of working at this firm. That requires careful planning and focus. Interviewers should be prepared to answer the following questions for all finalist candidates, whether they ask them or not: What are the expectations for associates regarding work, roles and responsibility on matters, as well as billable hours? What is the partnership potential? What is the firm’s growth plan and long-term strategy? How collegial is the environment? Is there a mentorship program? What is the associate-to-partner ratio? Are there opportunities for professional development? The interviewer should be clear about what the firm has to offer and know the factors that differentiate it from all the others. When selecting the people who will actually conduct the interviews, firms should: • Keep the “duds” in the closet and put the “people” people up front. Make sure the most personable people in the firm are the ones that actually meet the attorneys the firm is trying to woo. The candidate interview process is similar to dating. Each side is trying to impress the other. A firm should not have someone represent it who is going to make the candidate feel unwanted or unimportant. • Match “like people” with “like people.” Look for similarities based on a variety of factors � e.g., undergraduate school, law school, personal interests, pro bono activities, hometown, etc. Candidates feel more comfortable speaking with people with whom they have something in common. This applies to diverse associates, too. If the firm has a woman candidate, it shouldn’t put her in a room with four white, middle-aged men. It should let her see that it has satisfied and successful women on its team, too. • Involve partners who are able to sell the firm, who can talk positively about the different practice areas and who can explain the role of the associates, the interpersonal dynamics and the expectations. • Have some of the firm’s successful laterals meet with the candidates. Hiring partners should be sure to choose associates who are firm cheerleaders � those who are excited about the practice of law and the firm. They can help answer specific questions, describe how laterals are treated, explain why they selected the firm and how their objectives have been met, and talk about some of their experiences and accomplishments since joining the firm. This will communicate volumes to an associate candidate about what he or she can truly expect. After the interview The firm also should formalize the post-interview process. Most firms use easy-to-fill-out forms that allow for simple numeric ratings or one-word reactions. Longer evaluations and debriefings by the human resources staff or recruiting professionals tend to be much more helpful. Once the hiring team has chosen the associate it wants, it should make the offer as quickly as possible. If the team has done its job well, the candidate will be convinced that the firm is the best one for him or her and be eager to close the deal. Making a match that lasts is not easy, but it is simple. It requires commitment to the process and the dedication of a significant amount of time by a select group of partners and associates. The keys are to choose the appropriate team of interviewers, arm them with thoughtful questions and then provide each interviewee with accurate and timely feedback. When executed correctly, the hiring process will help distinguish the firm as one of the best and enable it to fill its team with attorneys well-matched to its culture and goals. Sheri Michaels and Margie Grossberg are partners and co-leaders of the global associate practice group in the New York office of Major, Lindsey & Africa. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].

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