Describing your firm and differentiating it are two very different things. The key to successful recruitment and retention lies in understanding how your firm is different from its competitors, clearly communicating that difference in the marketplace, and then finding the audience that appreciates those differences.
Every organization has a wealth of information embedded in its existing workforce—both in its lawyers and business professionals— as well as external sources of information, to craft persuasive answers to the question: “Why should I join your organization?”
Use your team!
Most firms, when describing themselves, often use words and phrases that make them sound similar to their competitors—you know the drill: “collegial,” “collaborative,” “fast-paced,” “meaningful work,” “no A-hole rule,” etc.
Differentiators are those things that make your firm stand apart from your competitors. Examples may be:
- 1-tier partnership
- A focus on niche practices, industries, or clients
- Retention rates
- Training, mentoring, business development support
- Innovative benefits policies
To gather the information necessary to identify and define your points of differentiation, look beyond your usual recruiting team for sources both inside and outside your firm.’
It’s important for recruiting and retention professionals within the organization to stay curious, and constantly seek to learn about other functions within the firm. Your internal business departments collect information that can help the recruiting professionals differentiate the firm to outside recruiters and candidates. Think about the kind of information available from each department and how you can use it to enhance recruiting. There’s power in data AND anecdotes and you need both.
Reach out to:
- Your firm’s professionals in marketing, conflicts, finance, business development, pricing, professional development, IT, knowledge management/research, integration, HR/benefits. Each holds a piece of the puzzle that is your firm.
- Your lawyers, through stay interviews, exit interviews, integration follow-ups; and, especially, your laterals who have worked within and interviewed with firms elsewhere yet chose to join you.
- Also talk to attorneys at your firm who are working with successful laterals to find out what has gone right (as well as to those who worked with laterals who didn’t work out, and why). This tells you what it takes to succeed at your firm and in those departments, specifically.
Look also to external sources such as:
- Candidates who turn down your offers. Why?
- Your firm’s alumni attorneys. Why did they leave? What do they like better (or less well) about their new situations?
- Clients—why do they choose to use you over your competitors?
- Outside search firms who operate in the markets where your firm practices.
Search firms are an especially rich but often overlooked resource with deep insight into the market. Ask them about the reputation of your firm compared to your competitors. What are the reactions of potential candidates, both those who do and—especially—those who do not, want to explore an opportunity with your firm?
What is the feedback of candidates in the midst of your recruiting process? What do you do well? What do other firms do better? Why do the candidates accept or turn down your offers?
And, if those recruiters have worked with candidates leaving your firm, why (without revealing sources) do lawyers seek to leave? Conversely, those recruiters may have spoken with attorneys who are happy to stay at your firm. What have they heard? Candidates are much more likely to be candid with outside recruiting consultants than they would be with anyone inside your firm.
When seeking to gather this information from internal sources, you might encounter some resistance. Everyone is busy and other departments might not see recruitment and retention as being their primary concern. Explain why you need this information and how you plan to use it. Remind them that attracting and keeping the best attorneys on board makes for a successful firm, which is everyone’s primary mission.
Also, know who and when to ask. Understand the functions and purview of your business departments so you go to the right source for the specific information you seek. Don’t ask when they are in the midst of a big rush to complete other important projects. (A word to the wise: Get to know the secretaries. They can point you in the right direction and facilitate your requests.)
On the other hand, outside legal recruiters usually are more than happy to share their insights in return for information that truly differentiates your firm from others in the marketplace. Providing specific differentiating data and anecdotes helps them “sell” your firm and its career opportunities to candidates. This helps your outside recruiters help you!
Remember that recruitment and retention is a team sport. As the saying goes, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” So, play all members of your team.