Recruiting strategies and blended roles among legal staffing trends

As law firms and companies expand legal teams to pursue new business opportunities, competition is intensifying for job seekers with in-demand skills and niche backgrounds, according to Robert Half Legal. The firm’s Salary Guide found applicants with expertise in high-growth practice areas and industry sectors, including commercial law and healthcare, are seeing greater-than-average starting salaries, signing bonuses and multiple offers.

“Employers are placing a premium on associates and paralegals who can assume full caseloads and deliver quality results to clients,” said Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal. “The most sought after legal professionals possess three to five-plus years of experience in a hot practice area, technological proficiency, and strong interpersonal skills.”

Here are five hiring trends in the legal field, according to Robert Half Legal research:

  1. Recruiting and retention strategies are more essential. As baby boomers begin to exit the workforce and vacate leadership roles, employers are re-evaluating succession plans and focusing on how to become more attractive to Gen Z workers.
  2. Employers are enhancing benefits. Law firms and companies are emphasizing greater flexibility, training, career advancement opportunities and other perks valued by job seekers, such as telecommuting and business casual dress codes.
  3. Hybrid or blended paralegal/legal secretary roles are more common. Aside from practice area experience, the most marketable legal support professionals have strong technology skills and are able to perform multiple job functions.
  4. Foreign language skills are in demand. In certain markets, bilingual abilities, including Spanish language skills, have become increasingly vital for attorneys and legal support professionals.
  5. The market is improving for junior-level attorneys. While hiring has not yet returned to pre-recession levels, many law firms are expanding summer clerkship programs and hiring newly minted associates who can meet client demands for lower bill rates.

Volkert added that employers are more willing to negotiate compensation and benefits to attract and retain top talent. “Offering competitive pay, interesting work and advancement opportunities are highly effective strategies for improving employee engagement and reducing turnover,” he said.

Career Navigation: Effective Communication

According to a study by Harvard Business, 80% of our workplace issues can be attributed to the lack of interpersonal skills and not the competencies of the parties.  Interpersonal skills are critically important – a key one of which, that makes or breaks one’s level of effectiveness, is communication. People speak, people listen, yet there is more happening in every interaction than what initially appears on the surface. 

Another study sites the fact that, typically, people make a quick assessment of one another within the first seven seconds of meeting.  A strong first impression counts. What are you communicating?  

One might say the art of effective communication is comprised of listening intently, responding appropriately, exhibiting enthusiasm, and mutually understanding each other’s thoughts and emotions. 

Here are the 10 most common problems in communication:

  1. Initial rapport is not established with listeners.
  2. Body movements are stiff or wooden.
  3. Material is presented intellectually, not involving the audience emotionally.
  4. Speaker seems uncomfortable due to fear of failure.
  5. Eye contact and facial expression are poorly utilized.
  6. Humor is lacking.
  7. Speaker’s intentions are not made clear due to improper preparation.
  8. Silence is not used for impact.
  9. Energy is low, resulting in ineffective pitch pattern, speech rate and volume.
  10. Distractedness.

And here are the 5 Essentials of a great communicator:

  1. Being fully present.
  2. Being prepared.
  3. Making others comfortable.
  4. Being committed.
  5. Being interesting.

Whether you are simply meeting someone for the first time, or you are engaging in business development, client service, interviewing, leading, managing, responding to RFP’s, or presenting before a group, first impressions are important and strong communication skills are critical.  

What impression do you make on others?  Are you as effective as you could be in conversation? Are you hearing all that is being said and are you communicating all that you want to communicate and nothing you don’t?  Communication is a skill, and like all skills must be honed. Make sure to communicate as effectively as you can in order to gain the most from each conversation, and portray yourself the way you want to be perceived.

Lawyers and Business Acumen

The state of constant change is a business reality.  Executives need and want to hire a lawyer with strong business acumen.  We hear and see that need often in job descriptions and interviews. Yet what does business acumen mean and how do you know if you have it?

The typical company has undertaken multiple enterprise-wide changes in the last few years from restructuring, expansion into new markets, and leadership transitions.  Lawyers now work with more stakeholders on more new legal issues across more global offices than ever before, and corporate employees in all functions agree that the work environment is changing faster than ever.

A lawyer’s performance in supporting a company as it shifts directions is business acumen.  And, typically, this is a new skill to hone for most lawyers. The issue is not that lawyers are not smart enough.  Lawyers have been schooled, trained, and rewarded for activities such as writing, reporting, following procedures, presenting, communicating, and adhering to principles.  These are all activities and skills that provide value when an environment is stable.

By contrast, a shifting, changing environment requires capability in entrepreneurial thinking, planning, organizing, leading, creating, innovating, formulating strategy, achieving objectives, adapting, and readjusting with setbacks.  Typically, lawyers are unprepared for this behavior in a fluid environment.  

The positive message is that lawyers are smart and these skills can be learned, trained and coached.  The key skills that can assist lawyers to be adaptable and flexible in the face of change are:

  1.  Career Development Plans.

Rising lawyers need direct exposure to different business challenges if they are to learn and become more agile.  Too often they are working in a silo, working on and seeing only pieces of the issue. By intentionally providing a diverse set of experiences and projects for beginning, mid-level and senior lawyers, development opportunities are less likely to fall to the wayside for day-to-day urgencies.  

  1. Broaden the Experience Base.

Grooming leaders who can understand the impact of change on the business and adapt accordingly requires lawyers to spend time outside the legal cocoon.  Diversify their experience by working on client boards, or other client industry focused boards. Lawyers will get exposure to strategy and governance issues while the organization benefits via instant access to legal advice.  The greater exposure a lawyer can have into the endless range of business choices that senior business leaders face in deciding a course of action.

  1. Provide Experience.

It is powerful learning to when one can take the wheel and steer through an actual business challenge.  This experience learning may take the form of intentional role playing within the career development plan.  The ability to try what one has learned or to experience the trial and error effects of decisions provides hands-on learning that can be drawn upon when one is in the real situation.

The ability to adapt to change is crucial for lawyers who are navigating today’s complex and fluid business environment.  General counsel who design career development plans for their team, facilitate exposure to other parts of the business/operations, and train by providing hands-on experiences will build solid lawyers for the future.  

Career Moves: Moving In-House

In-House Career Paths – the potential issues to career happiness

It seems more and more private practice lawyers want to move in-house.  Even if lawyers successfully make that transition, they are often surprised to find that it isn’t necessarily the path to long term career happiness.  In-house lawyers face different career path issues than their private law firm peers. Rather than finding more job security and opportunity for advancement, they may have less.  Corporate counsels’ futures are tied to the fortunes of a single entity in a volatile marketplace. Furthermore, corporate legal departments are hierarchical with one general counsel, one division counsel, and so on.  While theoretically, law firms may elect an unlimited number of partners, often road blocked, in-house lawyers may wait quite some time, if ever, to progress within their current law department.

Potential Career Path Issues

  1.  Job Security. 

If you are in-house, stay proactive.  Keep your eye on what is going on with your company in the marketplace.  The in-house lawyers’ job security can be at risk because law departments are at the mercy of upper management’s business strategies and economic forces beyond their control.  For example, after a merger, sale, acquisition, or reorganization of all or part of the company, the law department may be eliminated or “duplicative” attorneys let go. Even if the legal department isn’t disbanded, new management may bring in its own team of senior executives including legal personnel.  Often companies or divisions relocate, requiring unwanted transfers. If a business declines, a division or entire company may downsize. Start-ups may not get their funding and need to cut back. The law department frequently is among the first to go because it’s a cost rather than profit center, and may even be viewed as an impediment to accomplishing business goals.  And, of course, entire businesses or divisions simply may shut down, leaving everyone without a job. The more aware you are, the more you can plan appropriately.  

  1.  Automatic Advancement. 

Despite the many perks of working in-house, even at a financially stable company, you need to realize that there could still be one big drawback, very little room at the top.  Corporations usually employ fewer lawyers than big law firms and in-house law departments tend to be organizationally flat. Advancement depends on a number of factors mostly out of your control, such as the size and structure of the department, the age of its attorneys, the health of the company, trends in the industry, or a combination thereof.  If your boss is competent, healthy, happy, and not close to retirement age, there is nowhere to go. Therefore, even doing prodigious amounts of great work may not move you up the ranks.

Options to Counter Potential Career Path Issues.

How does one detour these potential obstacles on the in-house road to career happiness?  Options might include changing departments and career paths or sticking it out while redefining goals and expectations.

  1.  Changing Departments/Career Paths.

If your career path is blocked either by a lack of job security of a dead end situation, you might change course by leveraging your business skills and moving from the legal department to another department such as compliance, general management, human resources, sales, or marketing.  For some lawyers, their initial goal was to segue out of the practice of law by moving from a law firm to an in-house legal department position and then transitioning to the business side of the corporation. For others, that trajectory occurs as a career necessity.

If you think you might want to pursue the business-side option, look for companies where lawyers made such moves in the past.  Some organizations have track records of transitioning their in-house lawyers into management or executive roles, while others virtually never do.  Once hired, the lawyer needs to

  • Network within the company so many people in many departments know them
  • Learn as many aspects of the business as possible
  • Communicate their professional development desires goals.  

We often help road blocked lawyers to springboard to a higher position in another company’s legal department, either in the same industry or a different sector where their skills transfer.  Some lawyers fear that specializing in an industry may pigeonhole them, resulting in fewer career options when much of the time it is exactly the opposite effect and a specialized industry lawyer is more attractive.  To increase potential future opportunities in a specialized industry, choose an industry positioned for growth such as healthcare, eldercare, high technology or energy.

  1.  Same Position, Increased Satisfaction. 

Alternatively, if you are in a secure but dead-end position you can seek other avenues of success without changing jobs.  Instead, look outside your current position to find skill development opportunities. Some lawyers achieve personal satisfaction by making speeches and writing articles or polishing their expertise and becoming their company’s go-to authority on an arcane but necessary subject.  Other lawyers enjoy mentoring within their companies or participate outside organizations by teaching at a local law school, college or paralegal program. Perhaps there is a cause you can assist with on a pro bono basis. Or, you might achieve recognition through a bar association or community leadership.  If you shift your expectations of your current position fulfilling all of your career satisfaction needs, a rich and rewarding career is possible without leaving your current position.  

While many lawyers seek the advantages of an in-house law career, it can present roadblocks and dead ends just like opportunities in private practice, governmental and non-profit jobs.  Keep these considerations in mind as you weigh your career options and plan your next career moves.

Career Moves: What Lateral Partners Need to Know

“The candidate wants our position.”  Historically, it was thought that a lateral partner would move to another firm because they were disgruntled.  This basic premise is false. It is a lot of work to move one’s practice and simple unhappiness is typically not a big enough reason to make a move.  Rather, a lateral partner moves their practice to another firm because of the platform; the opportunity to increase one’s clients, expand services to current clients, and increased income.

With a common misnomer of “a law firm, is a law firm, is a law firm” how does a lateral even evaluate a “better fit” or better platform?  Many times an interview process consists of both sides putting on shiny faces and discussing or exchanging surface information. On the surface, firms can look similar.  By digging a little deeper it is easy to see that not all firms are alike. And, the fact is, some firms are a better fit for certain people than others.

Senior lawyers whose compensation is based on a combination of individual performance and firm performance, whose practices are portable and whose client relationships are strong, need to know a lot more about a prospective opportunity.  And it is okay to ask!

After all, the firm where the lateral partner candidate wants to be is one that values lawyers who make important decisions based upon gathered information at the appropriate time.  The firm where the candidate does not want to be is one that does not want to provide the information.

The lateral partner candidate does not need to produce a formal questionnaire to get answers to questions.  Rather, the lateral partner wants to pay attention to all of the conversations, as to pick up bits and pieces of information along the way.

Some information is time sensitive and the best time to exchange that information is when the firm serves up their Lateral Partner Questionnaire; in a sense an “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”  exchange. In this way, the exchange of sensitive information can seem less awkward and continues the good faith effort and interest on both sides to continue conversation.

Here is the Lateral Partner Checklist; the questions that will ensure the collection of the relevant information a lateral partner will need to evaluate a prospective firm/opportunity:

Firm Governance/Leadership Structure

  • What are the committees?  How are people elected to the committees and are there term limits?  Is the firm organized by practice groups or locations? What and where are the profit centers?  What is the firm management structure (in addition to lawyer managers?)
  • Ask for information on the number of partners, associates and support staff.  How are people staffed on matters? What is the compensation structure including billable hour expectations for associates and staff?  What is the attrition rate/longevity of partners, associates, staff?  
  • What is the firm’s mission?  Core Values? Differentiators/uniques?

Growth Strategy/Lateral Hiring

  • What is the success rate in hiring laterals?  How many has the firm hired? What is the attrition?  Why?
  • What is the strategic plan over the next 1, 3, 10 years?
  • What is the potential/interest in merging?
  • What practice areas are targeted for growth?
  • What practices are of interest to add or contract within the firm?    

Financial Information

  • What are the firm’s liabilities?  (including debt and leases)
  • What is the make-up of the firm’s annual billings – what clients make up what % of the firm’s revenue/billings annually?  If there is a short list of clients that make up the majority of the firm’s billings, you may want to ask more questions.
  • What are the firm’s billing rates for all lawyers, associates and partners?  Review the billing rate differences for practice groups and locations.
  • Alternative fee schedules.  Is the firm using alternative billings for clients?  In what practice groups? With what clients? Do individual lawyers have flexibility to make these decisions in their own practices?
  • The following data should be collected for the current year and the last two years:
    1. Profit per partner
    2. Revenue per partner
    3. Average billable hours – partners
    4. Average billable hours – associates  
  • Ask for copies of financial statements for the last three years.

Partnership 

  • What is the partnership structure?
  • What is the retirement policy?  Is there a mandatory policy? Is there a payout?
  • What are the business development expectations?  How is business origination allocated (by client or by matter?)
  • Is there credit given to administrative duties?  Pro bono activities? Marketing activities?  
  • What is the compensation system?  Is it open or closed? How are decisions made?
  • What is the timing of payouts to partners (when draws are made, bonuses distributed)?
  • Is there and what is the capital contribution?  What is the condition of repayment?
  • How is succession planning thought of/practiced?
  • Ask for a copy of the partnership agreement.

Practice Growth:  Marketing/Business Development

  • What is the marketing support available?  Are their marketing budgets per partner? Is their internal business development support available?  Are there examples of marketing/business development success for partners?
  • Learn about cross-selling philosophies, practices, success stories.
  • Professional Development – What coaching/learning/training opportunities are available/supported?
  • What is the pro bono philosophy?
  • Community involvement philosophy?

Timing is everything.  It is easy to scare off or offend an attractive prospect by coming on too strong too fast.  Use your judgment in soliciting information. Prepare for meetings and ask good questions along the way.  Everyone’s time is valuable so use each visit, each conversation wisely. With each interaction, you want to come away with more tangible information that you can use to evaluate the opportunity and ultimately make a good career decision.  

Recruiting Strategy: Project Professionals and Client Retention

Recruiting Strategy:  Project Professionals and Client Retention 

One of the greatest impacts to a law firm or law department’s success comes from an increased focus on strategic lawyer staffing. According to a national legal survey, 77% of law firms that changed their strategic approach to lawyer staffing reported an increase in profits per equity partner, in the same survey general counsel reported greater agility to meet changing business demands.   

Strategic lawyer staffing is based on an organization’s mission, values and client demand. One of the more successful trends in strategic lawyer staffing is the use of project lawyers. Hiring project lawyers is now commonplace. Many firms and law departments realize if they are not employing project lawyers as part of their strategic hiring policy, they are probably over-staffed.

Here are the most common reasons organizations turn to project lawyers:

  • The workload has increased enough to make your team feel overworked, but not enough to justify hiring another attorney.
  • As corporate counsel, you assigned major litigation to outside counsel and were astounded when you received the first bills for discovery. 
  • You took on a matter that made such extraordinary demands on your time for several months that you felt you were neglecting other matters. 
  • An issue outside your area of expertise arose for a client and neither you nor anyone else on staff had time to explore it adequately.
  • You needed someone to assist you in a second chair role during a complicated trial. 
  • You (or co-worker) want to take parental leave, vacation or even a sabbatical. 
  • Your corporate law department or government agency does not have the budget for another employee, but do have discretionary funds available to hire temporary attorneys to handle overload work. 
  • You have a specific cleanup project, after a merger or a reorganization
  • You have a merger, deal, or contract where industry expertise is needed only until the matter is complete.

The use of temporary staff is a known concept for the legal profession.  Although a known concept, still prevalent are the long outdated myths, namely:

  • Temporary attorneys can’t find permanent jobs and accept temporary jobs as a last resort 
  • Temporary attorneys produce inferior work as compared to permanent attorneys
  • Temporary attorneys pose a threat to permanent staff attorneys
  • Temporary attorneys are not as committed to projects as outside counsel
  • Temporary attorneys don’t do anything to support the bottom line

Of course, successful firms and law departments know that all of these common myths are just that, myths, and all have been proven false.  After all, hiring a temporary lawyer successfully requires the same rigor one would use when hiring a permanent team member.  

Perhaps the myths linger due to the titles used to identify the temporary lawyer.  The title of Temporary or Contract or Project could be viewed as slightly demeaning and could support the mythical inference of lacking expertise, subpar, or not to be taken seriously.  As use of temporary attorneys becomes mainstream, more appropriate titles may be: 

  • Interim (a term commonly used in the C-Suite) 
  • Guest  (as in guest professor, or  guest lecturer) 
  • Adjunct (most lawyers speak highly of their former adjunct professors)  

What would it mean for an experienced lawyer who is choosing the professional career track of a project lawyer to be referred to as a Guest, Interim or Adjunct Lawyer?  Yes, the use of temporary attorneys is known, myths and all, yet the new norm is an individual choosing to work as a project lawyer as their professional career track.  

One reason the trend of using project lawyers is turning into the new norm is the economy.  Although the economy is and has bounced back, organizations are still aware of their bottom line and still want to run lean.  

The Hidden Potential of a Project Attorney 

The use of project attorneys can result in measurable cost savings to an organization.  Cost savings may include:

  • A retaining lawyer can charge the client the regular rates of the organization which are often more than it is paying to a contract lawyer 
  • There is no cost for employee benefits
  • A firm can keep work inside the firm vs. referring it out
  • A law department can handle work inside the department instead of paying outside counsel rates
  • Allows for agility and scalability – only paying for labor/work when it is needed

Also, organizations realize there is a tremendous amount of talent that is available in the career project lawyer realm.  

  • Baby boomers –seasoned professionals who may have retired from their long-time career positions but still want to work, provide value, contribute, and mentor in a more flexible manner.  These folks are experts in their field and expand an organization’s bench strength
  • Parents of young children.  Professionals who have earned their stripes and know what they are doing, but want to lead a more balanced and flexible life 
  • People who are experienced and enjoy travel or other hobbies to which they want to dedicate a significant amount of time
  • New generations (Y, Z) who “work to live” and do not want to work in the traditional “8 to 5” way

TIPS for SUCCESS

Clearly, the use of Project lawyers is a solution that makes sense in today’s economic climate. Talon recommends the following to ensure a successful experience when using project legal professionals:  

1) Hire the right professionals with the right background and training. Be clear on the expertise you need, and the background, training, and experience needed to get the desired work product.  Additionally, hire to match the vision, mission and values of your organization and your team.  

2) Integrate contract attorneys. Just as it’s crucial to orient and integrate all new hires, firms and in-house legal departments will likewise benefit from integration of project professionals.  

3) Have a plan. Determining the expectations of the project, the communication flow, and the report structure will help determine the project parameters.  This will help determine the expertise, the experience and the duration of the project.  

Project Professionals – A Differentiator

In today’s complex employment and economic environment, a permanent hire does not always meet your organization’s or client’s needs.  Firms and corporations need to think not only about how project legal professionals (attorney, paralegal, compliance) can help save them money, but also how they can start making them money.  Offering staffing that meets your organization’s needs is vital to client and talent acquisition and retention.

Effective Interviewing: New Interview Tips

You have made a good first impression with your resume and now have an interview. If you don’t prepare for your interview or arrive late or always cut your interviewer off, you could be cutting yourself out of the race before you even started. 

Effective interviewing merely requires you to prepare and practice. Basic interview tips are readily available, fairly simple to follow and yield strong differentiating results. So there is no reason for you not to be effective in an interview. And yet, you will be amazed at how often even basic interview tips are forgotten or overlooked. Don’t make that mistake. By preparing and practicing, you are setting yourself up to be present, less nervous and ultimately engaged for success. 

Here are the best interview tips, gathered from personal experience, friends/peers and scientific studies that when followed, can produce strong interview results.

1. Research.

If you want to impress prospective employers then be prepared and do a bit of research into the company you’re applying with. Find out what you can about the organization so you can tailor the interview answers you give to suit their needs and expectations. Doing this will also give you a much better idea of whether the company is a good fit for you.

2. Practice.

Answer interview questions out loud in front of a mirror, record yourself answering questions or practice answering questions in front of someone else. Practice gives you the opportunity to clarify and hone your message. It allows you to experience and adjust your non-verbals. It creates comfort when you are in the actual interview so you can be present and in the moment of conversation. 

3. Your Three Uniques.

Be prepared to give three examples that demonstrate both your technical expertise and show your strengths or differentiators. Craft the story to provide the situation, your role and the outcome. Practice saying each answer aloud.

4. Food and Beverage.

Eat protein ahead of time. Avoid sugar and caffeine. Sugar and caffeine alter your body chemicals, affecting your blood sugar, exacerbating nervous jitters and can block access to the thinking part of your brain. Protein allows for a constant, solid energy so you can endure the length of the interview comfortably.

5. Dress Appropriately.

Think carefully about what you wear to interview. It’s safe to assume that in most cases business formal attire will be appropriate but make sure you feel comfortable or you won’t come across well.

6. Arrive on Time.

This should be obvious. Always ensure you’ve worked out directions and anything else you might need to know before you set off for your interview so there’s no danger of showing up late.

7. Paperwork.

Make sure you take any relevant paperwork with you that you may need at an interview, even if you’ve already sent copies with an application. This could include your resume, examples of previous work, writing samples, transcripts and references. Remember, just because you brought a lot of paperwork, doesn’t mean 

you should force them all on the interviewer. Show them only if they are appropriate and relevant to the interview. 

8. Ready your Body and Mind.

Write down why you are so great on a sheet of paper 30 minutes before your interview. Then, practice a power stance and say your strengths out loud so your ear can hear your voice. Standing in a dominant manner, for example with your hands on your hips with your head up, will actually change the hormonal balance in your body and make you genuinely less nervous, more confident and more leadership oriented.

9. Handshake.

Look someone in the eyes and grasp one’s hand in a web-to-web fashion, use a slightly firm grip and three up and down shakes. Done.

10. Pause and Breathe.

This is so critical and often forgotten because you are either nervous or too excited to take a pause or both. During your interview, wait until the interviewer finishes the question before answering and take time to think before you speak. If you give yourself a moment to gather your thoughts you’re much more likely to give a relevant answer than if you panic and blurt out the first thing that comes into your head. Pause for a moment before you answer questions and you’ll be calmer and much more coherent.

11. Show Enthusiasm.

Energy, enthusiasm and interest are important to show. Smile occasionally, make eye contact without staring, and lean slightly forward. Body language matters in an interview. If you often look away, lean back and/or cross your arms, you will look defensive and less interested even if you don’t say so in your words. On the other hand, showing enthusiasm also doesn’t mean you are bouncing off the wall or raising your voice. It’s a balance. It’s about showing you are a professional and very interested in this opportunity without scaring anyone. 

12. Prepare Questions in Advance.

Write down a few pertinent questions to ask at the end of your interview. By asking good questions, it’s your chance to find out what you can’t from your research, show that you are interested and know about the company. Whether you are a veteran at job interviews or new to it all, following these basic interview tips are key to giving yourself an edge over the competition in this competitive job market.

Top Trends for Legal Resumes

Every lawyer needs an updated resume. Why? A resume is your first impression, a chronology of your work history, and your lead into your career advancement. 

A great interview-generating legal resume is all about differentiating yourself from others competing for the same jobs. With constantly changing trends in strategic resume writing, new ways to accomplish this differentiation are always emerging. If you take advantage of the latest trends and keep your resume updated, you are much more likely to stand out, make a positive connection, and stimulate the attention you deserve. 

Here are a few of the latest trends:

#1 – Include a leadership/personal brand statement.

Begin to build a vibrant message highlighting your vitality, leadership strengths and unique value proposition by answering questions like these: 

• What talents and characteristics do you possess that represent the best in your practice? 

• How did you achieve the career successes that most benefited your firms/companies? What specific actions did you take? 

• What critical contributions did you make to past firms/companies that wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t there? You will further support your brand statement if you can quantify your actions and contributions. Acceptable quantifiers are accomplishments measured with numbers, time or dollars.

#2 – Format your resume for the reader.

More and more hiring decision-makers are reviewing resumes on mobile-type devices when they are on the go. Brief, concise, brand-focused statements of value surrounded by enough white space to make them stand out will have the greatest impact. Long, dense paragraphs make it hard for the reader to quickly access and digest important make-or-break information about you. 

If one has to work at finding your skills and differentiators, it is easier to move on to the next person. Chronological resumes often make the reader work at finding your transferable skills. Functional resumes are difficult as they often lack context around when and where a skill was honed. Make it easy for the reader to review your resume and want to know more using a hybrid format. 

Experienced lawyers, lead with your strongest transferable skill and not your academics. What are they looking for in a hire? What problem are they looking to solve? What strategies are they looking to implement? This is the information a reader is seeking in a resume review and the reason they will want to know more about you.

#3 – Keep your resume to two pages.

To accommodate the need for brevity, pare down and consolidate all your great achievements and qualifications into a quickly readable communication. Provide deeper slices of success “stories” in collateral one-to-two-page documents – representative transactions, leadership initiatives, achievement summary, career biography, reference dossier, etc. These companion documents can be crafted to stand alone and to support your resume’s first impression.

#4 – Use the top of your resume’s first page to your best advantage. 

Since the top of your resume is the first, and possibly the only section that will be read, place your most important information here. It’s okay to move up to the forefront information normally found further down within the professional experience section – especially if it represents the best you have to offer. If you immediately capture your readers’ attention with vivid illustrations of your promise of value, employers will be more likely to read the entire document.

#5 – Highlight your key areas of expertise once. 

Instead of taking up precious space repeating obvious lists of responsibilities for each position you’ve held, consolidate them in the top part of the first page. For best impact, position them in nicely formatted columns or a shaded graphic box. Tailor your list of responsibilities to a position by listing the skills sought in the position first. 

#6 – Use Keywords. 

Use the same keywords as in the position description. If you are submitting a resume online, often the recruiting systems will search using keywords. This is also true if an internal recruiter is doing an initial resume screen; if the recruiter is not familiar with a legal practice, the review often consists of a keyword scan. 

Hiring partners and professionals want a more technical and specific description of your career than your bio provides—they want to identify attributes, gaps in your employment and your technical expertise. A strong resume is clear, concise and tailored to a specific position. Keep your resume updated and relevant so you will be prepared to take full advantage of an opportunity when it arises. 

Interviewing Top Talent

In today’s market, a successful lawyer knows there are many employment options available. A thriving legal market has made the hiring process increasingly competitive, as organizations vie for the strongest candidates. As a result, talented lawyers are often in the enviable position of being able to choose between several offers. 

Numerous books, articles and training materials have been written to advise lawyers on how to successfully interview for a job. However, the role of the interviewer is just as important to the success of the interview process. In fact, the more prepared an interviewer is, the more likely it is that an organization can hire the best and brightest talent.

The Goals of the Interviewer

Gather enough information to properly evaluate the technical and interpersonal skills of the candidate to determine if he or she will be able to perform successfully in their position. 

Effectively promote the organization in order to attract the best possible candidate for the position. The interviewer’s role in best presenting his or her organization to strong candidates is particularly crucial. 

Based on the experiences of Talon and feedback we receive from the candidates we represent, here are some pointers that we hope can help your organization when interviewing experienced lawyers.

Prior to the Interview

Establish an interview team. The team should consist of key stakeholders involved in the success or failure of the position. One person should be selected as the champion for the candidate – the person who is there to ask and answer questions for the candidate throughout the interview process. It is advantageous to select individuals who have both the time and the desire to conduct an interview, as well as the ability to accurately and enthusiastically present the organization’s true culture and differentiators.

Set the Interviewers up for Success

Provide interviewers with a description of the position and the qualities you are seeking in a hire. In order to choose the best candidate for the job, the interviewer needs to have a clear definition of the position the organization is seeking to fill. This includes information on the technical skill being sought as well as the interpersonal skills and be- havior traits being sought. This information may seem obvious and yet when people are busy they may not have the position top of mind when going into a conversation. So, make it easy for your interviewer and equip them for success. 

Provide interviewers with detailed information on the candidate. This may include resumes, social media bios, cover letters, writing samples and references. Interviewers should have access to and review as much information about the candidate as possible prior to the interview. This background information is very useful to interviewers as it can provide topics for discussion during the interview. 

Let the interviewers know what their role is in the interview process. Let them know if there are specific questions you want them to ask; if there are particular skills and traits they are watching for in the candidate’s responses or if there is specific information you want them to convey to the candidate.

During the Interview

Most attorneys and executives are not interviewing experts and could benefit from receiving some general guidelines on how to conduct interviews. Specifically, they should be encouraged to: 

Build a rapport with the candidate. At the same time that the lawyer is being evaluated, he or she is also evaluating the organization, its atmosphere and its people. A candidate who is at ease in an interview is much more likely to speak freely and share information that will enhance the information gathering process. 

Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions – typically questions that begin with why, how or what – are designed to allow the candidate to express themselves more fully, and enable the interviewer to gather more information on the candidate. The more interviewers can ask open-ended questions pertaining to the candidate’s specific background and achievements, the more the candidate will see a genuine interest by the interviewer and organization. 

Listen. If the interviewer speaks for 25 of the 30 minutes of the allotted interview period rather than spending a substantial amount of time listening, the candidate will likely come away from the interview feeling concerned about the interviewer’s apparent lack of interest in the candidate. At the same time, the interviewer did not gather sufficient information about the candidate to make an informed judgment as to whether the candidate would be the best fit for the job. While some sharing of information by the interviewer is needed in order to promote the firm, ideally the parties will engage in a back-and-forth discussion – allowing both parties the opportunity to speak and exchange information.

After the Interview

Gather comments from the interviewers as soon as possible. Interviewers should write out their notes and comments about a candidate as soon as the interview is completed in order to memorialize their thoughts in the most accurate manner. 

Follow up with strong candidates in a timely fashion. Momentum can be favorable to an organization and it is common for individuals to perceive any delay on the part of an organization as a lack of interest. It can be challenging for firms to ensure that lawyer interviews are accomplished as effectively as possible. Nevertheless, there are some steps that an organization can take to help ensure the success of the interview process. An organization’s ability to accomplish a prepared interview can be the difference between an informed hiring decision and a costly mistake. 

Recruiting Top Talent and Practice Group Leadership

Legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is the longest-serving coach in the NBA. Under his leadership, the Spurs have won five national titles, and hold the record for the longest streak of consecutive winning seasons in NBA history. Coach Pop’s leadership, and his team-oriented approach to basketball, is the secret to the Spurs’ success. 

Thanks to having the right leader, the Spurs organization has consistently demonstrated strong management, a clear vision, and a winning record.  Good players know that the Spurs are able to foster both team and individual success. Success breeds success, water seeks its own level, birds of a feather flock together. Are law firms subject to the same phenomena?  Do lawyers seek the best team?  

With global firms getting larger and opening more regional offices around the country, an ever increasing number of niche boutiques with successful lawyers who want a different lifestyle, as well as all the traditional mid-sized firms, top talent is in demand.  But top legal talent (associates and partners) are free agents. They get to choose where they want to practice. Like athletes, they want to join a team with successful players, good management and strong leadership. Importantly, this includes within practice groups.  Strong leadership at the practice group level is a key differentiator for a law firm’s continued success. Because law firms compete primarily at the practice group level and outstanding law firm performance is driven by outstanding practice group performance, it is a business imperative for firms to improve the performance of their group leaders if they want to attract top talent.

Three Steps to More Effective Practice Group Leadership

  1.  Get the Right People in the Leadership Seats 

Gregg Popovich does not start the game with second-string players.  Logically, this is obviously not a winning strategy. Yet, historically, too many firms select or appoint practice group leaders for the wrong reasons, namely: 

  • Seniority or end of career   
  • Book of business/rainmaker   
  • Not enough to do/underperforming   
  • Ego need  

Wrong leadership won’t generate the right results. Practice group leaders should be selected based on ability to do the job. Put your best leaders in the practice group leader role.  

Examples of Right Criteria for Practice Group Leader Selection

  • Enthusiasm and vision
  • “Gets things done” – makes decisions
  • Leadership/management skills 
  • Gets along with people – likable
  • Excellent lawyer – technically skilled
  • Delegation skills – makes use of, and advances, all players’ skills 
  • Communication skills – calls the plays

The critical role of the practice group leader is to provide active and rigorous leadership of the group, helping it to achieve a higher level of competitiveness and market position or presence. 

  1.  Provide Continued Coaching 

Both All Star athletes and All Star lawyers need ongoing coaching.  Once you identify your practice group leaders, support them. Give them the training and the tools necessary to continually improve their game and the team’s game. Most practice group leaders have never received formal management training, have never operated a business, and have not read a leadership book.  Law school trained them to be lawyers, not practice group leaders. There is no reasonable expectation that they should walk into the job knowing how to do it. You must equip them to be successful. Examples include:

  • Regular group training on planning and implementation, business development, pricing and profitability strategies, evaluating associates, and motivating underproductive partners
  • Individual coaching to assess and improve strengths, weaknesses, and leadership styles
  • Regular meetings of firm practice group leaders to share experiences, best practices and seek advice

If you want practice groups to improve, you must take time away from billable hours to invest in developing the leadership capability of your leaders. Firms with the most effective practice group leadership invest the time and money necessary for continuous leadership improvement.

  1.  Expect Real Accountability

In a basketball game, statistics are kept both on the team and the individual. In this way, the players, the coaches, the fans all know who is performing well, and who is not. This information can be used to improve individual and team performance. Similarly, to get optimal performance from your practice leaders, firm management must communicate clear performance expectations and put accountability mechanisms in place.  Practice leaders must understand that their performance, and their team’s performance, will be evaluated, and how it will be evaluated. Firms must provide a clear job description with priorities indicated and regular performance reviews. Reviews can be periodic check-ins with the Managing Partner, Executive Committee, or Board to discuss progress against plan, resource needs, business development targets, recruiting needs, etc. The goals of these meetings should be:

  • To make sure progress is being made
  • To discuss resources needed to support the group’s efforts
  • To encourage (not punish) the group leader

The approach should always be, “How can we help you be more successful?” By fostering a spirit of collaboration and excellence – not by reprimanding – firms can empower their practice group leaders to raise the bar for their team’s performance. 

Conclusion

In free agency, the best players seek successful teams. Successful teams then put their best players in key positions and give them the tools and coaching necessary for further success. The same holds true in the legal field – the best are attracted to the best. Practice group leadership can help attract the best legal talent. If your firm follows these three steps (pick good people, provide continuous coaching, and ongoing accountability) the result will be more competitive, higher producing practice groups that attract more top legal talent to your firm.