It's recruiting season at law firms again. You can take the recruiter out of a law firm, but you can't take the law firm out of this recruiter. After many years spent coordinating or managing law firm hiring programs, I cannot help but think about the fact that it's that time of year again.
On Campus hiring starts much earlier, now that most law schools have pushed their schedules back from fall and into summer. Many have already visited a campus this August. If you pay attention in a few weeks, you'll notice all the gray and black suits accompanied by associates in restaurants all over town, having the famous interview lunch.
This year the landscape of recruiting programs has undergone a renovation and for many legal employers, it will be a work in progress for most of the fall. It is more difficult for firms to determine how many offers to extend to get the "right" number of hires to fill up their summer associate programs or round out their incoming associate classes, but to not wind up with more associates than they can provide work. It is difficult to anticipate what the needs of various practices areas will be due to economic uncertainties.
For the first time in many years NALP has revised the guidelines for students and employers and rolled the deadlines for decisions. There has been a change in how many offers law students can hold and for how long. Whether and to what extent law students are aware of the soft legal market and the number of firms who have had reductions in force remains to be seen.
Whatever the circumstances at your firm, a best practice any year and especially this season, is careful preparation. If you are an attorney or hiring manager in the trenches of a firm and expect to conduct on campus interviews or meet with call back candidates, now is the time to determine the answers to the questions that law students ask every year and to set the stage for how to handle new and possibly more sensitive lines of questioning, without really having certainty of what the future holds for the industry or your particular firm.
This is a year when every one participating in the recruiting process will need guidance. An interviewer training is usually standard, this year it is definitely a good idea. Providing a well crafted message on how the firm wants interviewers to convey answers to questions about lay offs, any changes in policies for extending offers, and what size program the firm is aiming for, or any other concerns you can anticipate, should be decided on as soon as possible.
One bit of insight you might consider is that it is not necessary to raise topics or offer more information than necessary, unless there is a question from a candidate. Especially if there is ambiguity about hiring needs and practice groups, or the size of the program. It can be harmful in the way a firm is perceived and call attention to areas that would never have crossed a law students mind.
There are always cases where a firm may have had a recent partner departure, and wouldn't you know, one of the candidates that is visiting the firm will turn out to have been a fan of the partner who left. Maybe they took a course the person taught at their law school, or heard them speak. Having an answer if a candidate asks about such matters is important, but it does not need to brought up with the candidates who do not ask.
I have noticed from meeting with numerous firms and listening to their perceptions of the way they are viewed externally (both positively or negatively), that events within the firm may feel way more obvious from the inside than they actually appear from the outside. These are law students and they are primarily worried about getting a summer job and what their prospects for receiving an offer will be if they accept a summer offer. Likewise for third years looking to have a back up option or a position following graduation. This is a distinctly different audience than lateral partner and associate candidates.
Many firms have held or are planning interviewer trainings. A measure of additional support for having a consistent message for recruiting regulars and pinch hitters would be preparing a brief fact sheet with commonly asked questions and the appropriate answers, that can be updated as needed should things change, and distributed electronically when schedules and resumes are circulated. It can be done to suit each individual firm, and go beyond the basics out lined here and include ways to address distinctions between your firm and competitors, whether the firm allows splits, or anything else your recruiting team feels will be useful to include.
It never ceased to amaze me how under informed many partners were about such things, but they are usually just too busy to think about it until they are asked. Having the answers will make your interviewers look good and enhance the esteem with which a candidate sees the firm.
By proactively determining and managing the tone to be set this year, rather than leaving it to chance or to the individual of discretion of each interviewer, the process will go much more smoothly for everyone. People appreciate being informed and offering law students the answers to what seems so mysterious to them at times, shows good faith and transparency on the part of the firm.
As an added bonus, sharing plans for the summer program or incoming associate hiring plan might provide a measure of comfort about the health of the firm. Affirming that there is a future and thinking ahead to another summer program could boost morale and calm down the anxiety level. Even in the most stable and profitable firm, the rumor mill is swirling because anyone in the industry cannot help but notice what is going on all around them and wonder if their firm is alright.
A successful recruiting season is far more likely if these measures are taken in advance and applied in the communications between interviewers and prospective hires, so that the firm is presented well and accurately. If you participate in your firm's recruiting program and there has not been a training session scheduled or any background information distributed, definitely inquire with your hiring manager or partner. They are probably already working on it, but if they are not, they are likely to appreciate the suggestion.
What this hiring season will look like in retrospect remains to be seen. It's a mystery, just like the way Santa gets in and out of those tiny chimneys when he is so big and beautiful. We may never know about Santa, but for this recruiting season, we'll have the answer in a few months.
Season's Greetings and good luck with your hiring!
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