Hiring in a Law Firm: How to Hire the Right People

Harrison Barnes

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Hiring the right people for your law firm is important. Of course, it affects the client experience. Yet, it also affects how your law firm operates as well as the law firm’s culture. Hiring is an investment both financially and of the firm’s resources. Hiring the wrong person can result in the need to start the hiring process over again, the potential of dealing with an unemployment claim, and overworking current law firm staff to make up for the fact that the firm is short staffed.

Although hiring in a law firm is arguably the most important process, it is most often overlooked. Technology and the internet have certainly made finding and hiring the right candidate easier. Whether your law firm is trying to figure out how to hire the right attorney or looking to hire an entry-level legal assistant, this guide will help you review and improve your hiring process.

Understand the Hiring Process

Before hiring for any position in a law firm, you need to understand the hiring process. Smaller law firms may not have a devoted human resources department. While they understand the integral nature of hiring the right attorney or legal assistant, they feel the pressure involved in just getting a warm body in the office to help with taking care of the clients. We understand that is the goal of every law firm, but that alone can be dangerous.

The hiring process involves:

  • Identifying the need. Do you need an entry-level legal assistant? Are you looking for a lateral associate? Identifying exactly what your law firm needs will help later when it is time to create a job description that attracts the right job candidate. This is one of the few things that technology and the internet probably cannot help you with. (The sole exception being that you probably need your job candidate to be competent or able to learn whatever legal tech your law firm uses on daily basis.)
  • Consider how you plan to find candidates for your legal job. This is one part of the legal hiring process where technology can definitely help you hire the right attorney or support staff. There are multiple job boards that you can use. There are also job boards that specialize in legal jobs. Consider where your legal candidates are most likely to go to find law firm job openings, how those job boards advertise and attract legal candidates, and plan accordingly. This is known as legal recruitment planning.
  • Write and share your legal job description. We will get into more detail on writing a great job description. Hiring the right people for your law firm, though, involves more than just posting the job description on job boards. You should also share it out through social media and post it on your website as well. You can also share it with your law firm employees. They may know someone who might be a good job candidate.
  • Review legal job candidates to avoid hiring the wrong person. Reviewing resumes and cover letters is an important part of ensuring you do not hire the wrong person for the legal job.
  • Conduct a phone interview. A phone interview helps you further screen potential legal candidates. Whether you’re hiring a lawyer or a legal assistant, a phone interview can help you get a general feel for whether you should continue to move forward with the legal hiring process.
  • Schedule formal job interviews with qualified legal job candidates. After the formal job interview of each legal candidate, complete a reference check social media to determine whether each legal candidate would be someone you want to represent your law firm.
  • Finish required background checks and choose the right attorney or legal staff candidate. Provided that the reference check, online research, and background check results are acceptable, choose the right legal job candidate and make the offer.

Improving the Legal Recruiting Process

Hiring the right legal candidates for your law firm starts with recruiting. And the legal recruiting process starts with creating a job description that draws attention on the job boards that you choose. Regardless of whether you’re hiring for a legal staff position or looking for a lateral associate, you need to do more than attract qualified legal job candidates. You need to be able to keep them, too. Not only do you need to highlight what the chosen legal candidate will do, you have to paint a picture of the law firm’s culture. Law firm culture has become an important part of why legal candidates accept and remain in their positions even if they aren’t getting a raise. Here are some tips to help you write a better legal job description:

  • Start strong by introducing the law firm. Give the legal job candidate a chance to connect with the law firm culture from the very beginning. After all, you need to hire a lawyer or legal assistant who supports your ultimate goal.
  • Use a clear legal job title. Sure, there are some creative job titles out there in certain industries, but in the legal industry, it really is best that job candidates know what job it is that they’re applying for. And, yes, it’s okay to say “entry-level,” “associate,” “experienced attorney”, or “lateral hire.”
  • Be clear in legal job duties and responsibilities. While it is obvious that a receptionist position includes answering the phone, a small law firm may expect a legal assistant to cover the phones at certain times. Be clear. You can also include examples of what the chosen legal candidate is expected to do in their position.
  • Explain how legal job candidates can excel in the position. Most legal staff and attorneys really do want to do a good job…and they want to know they’re doing a good job. Explain to them how they can know they’re doing well.
  • Mention whether there’s opportunity for growth and other perks. For example, maybe your law firm allows flexibility to work from home a certain number of days each month.

Rely on Technology to Help Identify Potential Great Legal Talent

When you post your legal job description, use technology to help you by making it necessary for candidates to apply by submitting both a resume and a cover letter. Some job boards also offer services that identify potential legal candidates, offer various screening tools and applicant tests, and invite them to apply on your behalf. Keep in mind that this does not absolve you from reviewing the legal candidates’ application packets.

Using Technology to Research Legal Candidates

After you’ve identified and interviewed potential legal staff or attorney candidates, you will need to check references and perform background checks. When hiring a lawyer, this will extend to ensuring that the lawyer is in good standing with the bar. Believe it or not, there some lawyers who fail to disclose when they’re in trouble with the bar. And hiring the wrong lawyer can cause your law firm a lot of problems.

Additionally, you should research all legal job candidates on social media and through a major search engine. This isn’t about sending friend requests or follow requests. This isn’t about making judgment calls on what people choose to do in their spare time or in their personal lives. It is solely because anyone who interacts with law firm staff and attorneys can do the same thing: look up people by name and see their public posts. You need to know ahead of time whether their public social media posts are something you want associated with your law firm. You may also find that you could be hiring the wrong legal candidate. You could see warning signs such as public social media posts where they complain about job interviews, former clients, current clients, their current law firm, or their previous managing partner. These aren’t minor, occasional “My bed is warm and it’s a cold Monday morning!” complaints. These are denigrating. There could be public posts that promote illegal activities as well. Those are certainly not things that you want associated with your law firm.

When hiring a lawyer, you may come across a negative review. While you should read it, it is also important to keep it in perspective. As you may have experienced, a bad review could be left by an unhappy former client or could even be spam. It’s important to take bad reviews with a grain of salt. If there are multiple bad reviews and there seems to be a trend pointing toward an issue, that could be a cause for concern.

Technology and the Internet Are on Your Side!

When you’re hiring in a law firm, technology and the internet are on your side. From posting your legal job online and inviting candidates to helping you complete background checks, technology and the internet can make the legal hiring process easier. The internet can be a great source of information and free tools to help you hire the right legal job candidate every time!

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company, LawCrossing, has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About HiringPartner

HiringPartner is a data-driven recruiting and applicant tracking system. Hiring Partner delivers the intuitive, integrated management tool you need, while maximizing your attraction of top talent through our exclusive network.

There are many job boards, applicant tracking systems, and ways to recruit law firm attorneys out there—but there is only one Hiring Partner. Hiring Partner is the most powerful legal recruiting tool ever for law firms. In other words, Hiring Partner is not just an organizational tool, but also a talent magnet. For more information, please visit https://www.hiringpartner.com/

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