Cast your mind back to the grey days of late March 2020; even as dark foreboding storm clouds hung low over the world some lawyers were still making moves in the London jobs market. Moreover, many of those moves stuck. I personally placed several lawyers amidst the depths of lockdown 1.0, they were virtually onboarded and thankfully are still doing well at their respective organisations now months later.
While some sectors such as IT have rebounded nicely in terms of hiring for the most part, there is still a glut of candidates and a lack of jobs (legal included). This supply-demand dichotomy may lead you to assume that it is easy to hire lawyers right now either for your law firm or company.
Assumption is never a good idea; while active candidate response and engagement is greater than ever, (response to adverts on LinkedIn have undoubtably hit an all-time high) that does not automatically equate to lower cost, optimum fit candidate placement.
In spite of what any recruitment industry spin-doctors say it is axiomatic that there just aren’t many quality legal roles out there. If you have decided your team’s additional legal headcount is essential and needs to move forward, you may be thinking of a new way of hiring. Budget constraints and apparent large applicant availability may tempt you to ask HR to handle your legal hire directly supported by popping an advert on LinkedIn and your website to “cover all bases”, scheduling the interviews expediently over Zoom.
What are the challenges with this approach?
1. The limitations of technology
Zoom, Blue jeans and Microsoft Teams were kind of fun to begin with until they really, really weren’t. In the future I am sure virtual meetings will be seamless and almost indistinguishable from in person meetings. At the moment we have; sub-optimum camera quality, patchy Wi-Fi, background light/reflective glasses, building noise from the never-ending home renovations all our neighbours are doing, that doesn’t even factor in the distraction factor of our partners, children or pets. There just is a difference between interviewing over video conference and meeting in person, just as there is a difference between video conference and telephone interview. Holistically understanding a candidate helps us make more accurate determinations as to their suitability for the role. The only mitigation to technological limitations is to gather more data points (more steps than usual to the process) to help understand as accurately as we can the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate for the hire.
2. You will miss out on potentially the best candidate
Going “old school”, placing an advert and waiting for the right candidate to find you may result in a lot of CVs, however, there are many more you will never see. Passive candidates, often the most desirable for employers, those who must be coaxed out of their current situation to explore a new opportunity will be missed. What’s the problem with that if there are still a lot of great active candidates I can interview? The answer to that question depends on the value you ascribe to finding the very best person possible as opposed to the best person who happens to be actively looking for a new job and see your advert.
3. Minimal guidance throughout the hiring process
No recruiter or search partner = no recruitment fee. Great news for the budget, right? It depends, if your current approach is send jobs to 5 recruiters and let the best CV win you probably won’t notice much of a change just posting an advert or running the process internally and handling the applicants directly. If you are used to partnering closely with one firm/individual who can advise you on what is realistic in terms of pay and skills available, who can help you tweak your own interview process to be as effective as possible the change will be night and day for you and the candidate you hire.
4. Last-minute candidate nerves
If it is harder for you the client to truly understand the candidate because meetings are virtual it is also harder for the candidate to get the requisite comfort level to join you the employer. When you are a big brand this issue largely mitigates itself, people have a preconception of what it will be like to work at Sullivan & Cromwell or Google or Goldman Sachs so they "don’t need to worry as much". When your organisation or firm is smaller or more specialised extra steps are often needed to ensure that the correct decision is being made by all parties. Having a consultative third party involved helps to smooth out wrinkles and identify unwelcome surprises before they happen.
What have we learnt from the above? Probably not much that we didn’t already know, however, perhaps this has helped to order some of your thoughts on the topic more clearly. The simplistic view that higher active engagement and fewer competitive positions mean hiring a new lawyer is easy is a fallacy. Keep a sensible, structured process and adhere to best practice and the hire will undoubtably be better quality and more bought-in from day one.
Author: Ken Collins is a legal and compliance search partner with Greenway Collins covering the EMEA region from London.