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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

July 29, 2019

I’m a hiring manager and I have been looking to hire a lawyer for 6 months. Is this length of time normal in today’s market? If not, what am I doing wrong?

Julie Q. Brush

The state of a legal market carries with it different characteristics. When things are slow, employers possess greater leverage in the hiring process. In this situation, employers have a wider and deeper candidate pool from which to choose-and candidates have fewer opportunities to consider. So employers can drive a harder bargain when it comes to compensation and titles, which keeps these matters at bay.

By contrast, an active market swings the pendulum-which often results in a “buyer’s market”. In this dynamic, leverage shifts to the candidates. And attorneys seeking new opportunities have a greater selection from which to choose-and from which multiple offers can, and usually do arise. These offers are more heavily negotiated as well, which drives market compensation…and titles up. Slowly, but surely. Finally, the hiring process can take longer due to rejected offers and strong market competition.

Today’s legal market is active. This means competition for the best legal talent is fierce. And landing a great candidate takes recruiting savvy…and time. How much time? Is six months too long to go without a successful hire-or is it commonplace?

If the practice area you seek to hire is niche, a six month search cycle is a bit long, but isn’t an outlier. However, if your specifications call for a mainstream practice such as commercial, corporate, litigation, tech transactions, patent etc. the six month mark is too long to be without an “I do” – and there are likely other factors that might be compromising your search. Below are a few common culprits:

• Compensation is Too Low. In a buyer’s market, low compensation is the Achilles Heal of a successful hire. No matter how awesome the role/culture are, candidates will reject offers that aren’t up to snuff. If you are in this situation, evaluate whether you can increase any part or all of the the comp (base, bonus, stock) or add a signing bonus to the package. If you cannot, you’ll need to be flexible on seniority, title and/or the candidate’s practice profile in order to change your fate.

• Unattractive Title. Lawyers care about titles. I repeat: Lawyers. Care. About. Titles. And an active market can and usually does produce title inflation. In addition, candidates aren’t likely to make a lateral title move. So, if the title for your position is unappealing, candidates will steer clear. If you can’t upgrade the level, think about something more creative.

• Ineffective Interview Process. When trying to woo the best of the best, employers need to be on their game. Scheduling issues, inconsistent messaging, disorganization, lag time, lowball offers, sloppy delivery. In a good market, tolerance is low for these missteps. How good is your game?

• You’re Looking for Perfect. No candidate is perfect. So if that’s what you’re seeking, failure is certain. Review your candidate feedback and identify where you have some “give” on your specs going forward. That will open up the candidate pool and increase your chances of a successful hire.

• No Hours/Commute Flexibility. Most employers today provide their employees with the opportunity to have “flex” hours and/or work from home one or more days a week. In metropolitan areas where traffic is unbearable, providing this “perk” gives employers a competitive market advantage. If you are digging in around 9 –  6 face time, you are likely losing candidates who otherwise would be a great fit.

• HR Feels Overwhelmed. Today’s HR department is pulled in a thousand directions. And many don’t feel comfortable with the specialization of legal search. If HR feels overwhelmed, your search won’t likely receive the attention it needs for success. So take inventory and make staffing changes as necessary.

Conducting a successful legal search is not easy. And when the market is hot, challenges increase. But even in a hot market, a six month process without results is too long-and requires examination into what isn’t working…and why. So peel the onion and determine what needs adjustment, and adjust. And you’ll be on your way to a quicker, easier finish in no time.

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