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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

March 28, 2016

I’ve been searching for 6 months to hire a lawyer, but haven’t found anyone yet. Is this length of time normal in today’s market? 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. Employers can drive a harder bargain when it comes to compensation and titles, which keeps these matters at bay. So filling an open legal slot can move at a good clip.

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. There also tends to be an increase of bad behavior among candidates during the process (particularly the offer stage), which can sour even the most understanding employer and cause them to pump the brakes. 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 on the long end, 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:

  • Poorly written job description. The job description is the first piece of marketing a candidate sees and impression s/he forms about the role. And lawyers assess it quite literally. A poorly written job description can mislead candidates and deter them from considering the opportunity. So check your write up and see how accurately it conveys your true intentions.
  • 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 and culture are, candidates will reject offers that aren’t up to snuff. If you are in this situation, evaluate whether you can increase the compensation. If you cannot, you’ll need to be flexible on seniority, the candidate’s practice profile and/or credentials in order to change your fate.
  • Unattractive title for seniority range. Lawyers care about titles. A lot. And an active market often produces title inflation. If the title for your position is unappealing, candidates will steer clear. If you can’t upgrade the level, think about something creative that sounds more important.
  • 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. But if that’s what you’re seeking, failure is certain. Review your applicants and feedback on the candidates. Then identify the areas where you have some “give” going forward and apply accordingly.
  • 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 changes as necessary.

Conducting a successful 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.

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