The Power of HiringPartner: How to Avoid Making these 5 Mistakes When Hiring Attorneys

Harrison Barnes

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Summary: When law firms don’t get hiring right, it costs them big. You can ensure a better process when you use quality tools. This explains why HiringPartner’s tools are what your firm needs.

  • Strong leadership is necessary in a law firm, but so is the right type of leadership
  • The right data and tracking tools can streamline your hiring process
  • Judge by what’s important: don’t be dazzled by résumés at the expense of character
  • Why HiringPartner has more to offer

Legal Hiring: Better and easier is possible

Work is piling up. Clients are edgy. Deadlines are closing in. You need an associate:

Not just any associate but one that meets the aspirations of the firm: An individual that really crushes—a person to add value to the firm.

Where to go? One of the giant job boards on the radio? Wait. How much are they? Post jobs to Craigslist?

Your post your job in the morning. By noon an incredible candidate drops as if from the sky. They’re free that afternoon! You interview them. They’re amazing: Their experience is stellar; their references are golden—rainmakers, captains of industry, law academics. They’re hired!

Wake up! You’re having a fever dream; this will never happen.

Backup: You can’t have that but you can get very close with HiringPartner.

The legal hiring process made better

You know that the hiring process can be long, intensive, and very expensive, in both resources and costs. If it were only resources you were looking for—jobs and situations based on rote skills—then it’d be easy. But you’re looking for much more; you’re looking for talent. You need someone who can be an asset to the firm; that’s far more complicated. Finding talent takes digging, assessment, and a deep pool of possible candidates. These are the trials and expenses of your law firm’s hiring process that are unavoidable.

But it’s exactly for these trials and expenses that HiringPartner is such a valuable asset for your firm: We can be the go-to resource for helping you find the talent you need and deserve. And:

With HiringPartner, the entire hiring process is free: It also provides:

  • Always free job posting for legal jobs
  • Offering more than free job posting sites, we offer a network of attorneys and other legal professionals of over 500,000 strong
  • A screening of candidates based on your criteria using a state-of-the-art applicant tracking system, customized by you
  • A way to manage your entire hiring pipeline from your account dashboard: Review chosen candidates, reject them or advance them—schedule interviews or send automated rejection messages, and more
  • A system that allows rejections to be automated so that all applicants—be it tens or thousands—can be alerted
  • A way to change your parameters to refine you search, anywhere in the process
  • Archiving of good candidates and a process for retaining the best ones for future job openings
  • Accessibility for all or your correspondence and transactions, readily available for as long as you want

So you know how; what about when?

It’s been said that when your firm or practice has the equivalent of one and a half times the work one person can do, either a partner or a senior associate, it’s time to take on another associate. Of course, the ideal time to do this is when there’s space to have the new hire train and learn properly, without the frenzy of stress. When your workload reaches this level, it may also be best to stop accepting new clients or matters until the firm can contain the workload. With a proper explanation, clients can accept being deferred. They’ll appreciate the desire of your firm to focus on the quality of its work and its timeliness.

Avoiding the mistakes others make

How dream candidates can become nightmares

  1. Overvaluing Credentials and Undervaluing Character:

We’re too often pulled by our own confirmation biases—we prefer that which agrees with what we already believe—or want to. We might be swayed by someone who went to our school (elevates our own status), or where they may have clerked (depending on their politics, of course), the kind of technical background they have (and whether it’s like or too unlike our own), or who they know (social cred).

These things can all have value, even great value, but they don’t tell the whole story. Or, maybe they do tell a story but just not the one you need told now. Most skills can be taught. Qualities like personality, attitude, temperament, and fluency within your particular firm’s culture—those things are harder—if not impossible—to teach.

The more impressive the potential associate’s hallowed law school, advanced degrees, and lofty experience, the less likely that associate will be prepared to adapt to your firm’s processes and ecosystem. You want to find someone who can hit the ground running, and maybe they’ll require less legal training, but how much will you also have to remold and deprogram them?

It is often assumed that when a new attorney hire doesn’t work out, it’s because the person didn’t have the right skill set. In truth, the cause more often has to do with the person’s personality and approach to the job.

Any new recruit will require some training and reprogramming to start. Unless you’re bringing in someone that can add a new specialty area to your practice, these general qualifications will often yield the best results:They’re 1 to 5 years out of a local law school (not necessarily the most famous one)

  • They’ve roots in the community
  • They already have some experience in the profession, have a good feel for what it’s about, maybe have already suffered their first setbacks and discouragements somewhere else and haven’t taken on too many bad habits (or at least ones you can manage and reprogram)
  • If this sounds like your candidate, they’ll be far more willing to learn as much as they can and become a team player and much more likely to become an asset in the years to come

How HiringPartner will help:

  • More choice: HiringPartner gives your law firm access to over 100 job boards—both legal job boards and those with extensive legal staff categories.
  • Personal ATS: This extensive pool of candidates is filtered and curated through an applicant tracking system set to your custom parameters. Through our AI enabled system, your ATS is able to filter by experience level, practice area, geographical location, education, skills, and others.
  • Archive: If you’ve run other job postings on the site, those candidates will be in your HiringPartner database. Within the dashboard, if you find a new applicant that appears promising, similar candidates that have previously submitted applications can be viewed alongside the newer applicants.
  • Notes and Reviews: When a candidate is interviewed, your notes and evaluations along with their résumé and cover letter are included in a candidate file. From this window it can be reviewed compared to other candidates.
  1. You’re Building a Cast of Characters—Not Clones of You:

In the movie of your firm, the partners, senior associates, even the hiring team may be the stars but when you’re casting to fill other roles you don’t want a whole ensemble of only Brad Pitts—or Michael B. Jordans, Ann Hathaways, or Kerry Washingtons. Your team also needs supporting players and rising stars to fill out a winning ensemble.

Maybe you bring a strong entrepreneurial spirit or managerial mentality to the office. What you need from other team members are those that can fill in other areas, or even just someone who’ll put their head down and do the work.

Here’s what you don’t want: That entrepreneurial and managerial person, the one like you, who works at your side and learns from you only to later leave and hang out their own shingle and become your competition. And maybe even steal some of your clients as they walk out the door. You want what they learn from you, and build on, to stay with you.

How HiringPartner can help: If you’re looking for someone who’s a team builder, then by all means hire an entrepreneur. But if it’s research and dogged attention to detail you need, then a bigger picture type isn’t what you most need. Create “must-haves” on your job posts and interview questions that target experience and skills that will help you better decode a candidate’s skillset and style. From your HiringPartner dashboard, you can compare candidates and reference notes and comments to give you a clearer picture if you’re on target.

  1. Hire Under Fire and You’ll Get Burned

Quick decisions are unsafe decisions, so said Sophocles over 2,500 years ago. Since then, our brains haven’t changed much. We often associate good leadership with the ability to make quick decisions. And sometimes they may even be the right ones. Unless you’re a Navy SEAL or a chess master, making decisions with limited information under stressful circumstances isn’t going to result in your best decisions, and it may not be something you were even trained to do. One of the problems with flash decisions is, as research points out, you’re operating on patterns from your past, including emotional content, and sometimes those patterns can mislead—we’ll think we understand something when we don’t. This is further complicated by the fact that these patterns do often serve us well. Malcom Gladwell called it “the power of thinking without thinking” in a very popular book. This kind of thinking is also where our stereotypes and biases live.

Hiring in a time of crisis is never good. It can also be very limiting. Waiting to hire an associate until you’re completely swamped with work is hiring in chaos. And it’s not a good place for an associate to begin—not the optimum environment for nurturing success. Every task will be an emergency. What you’ll need then is a EMT, not an attorney. In the frenzy, no one is going to have time to train and supervise them. Instead, they may learn very bad habits or they’ll just get scared, overwhelmed, and maybe even quit.

What you get with hiring under fire: The law firm horror stories

  • This is a common story: The chosen candidate didn’t have the experience they claimed. They even cover it up for a while (as mistakes are being made).
  • The poorly vetted candidate who turned out to be unreliable and missed work until the firm had to fire them. Then, the process begins all over again.
  • The hire that accepted the offer, delayed their start, and then finally ghosted the law firm.
  • Another too-common story: After the firm pays for relocation the candidate either doesn’t start or starts later than agreed upon. And then there was the candidate who worked at the firm for three days and had to quit because his wife wouldn’t relocate with him.
  • And not just sketch junior associates: A partner who’d claimed a book of portable business and ultimately failed to bring over any clients.
  • The candidate who started at a firm but never ended his job search and was soon to quit the firm and start another new position.
  • Candidates with substance abuse problems are not uncommon: Lawyers are more than twice as likely as the general population to have problems with alcohol. (They’re also 3.6 times more likely to suffer depression.) This study says more than a fifth of working attorneys qualified as problem drinkers—younger attorneys in their first 10 years of practice are the most likely victims. Substance abuse is a factor in 40% to 70% of all lawyer disciplinary proceedings and malpractice actions. Also: Lawyers lead other professions with the highest incidence of depression; since 1996 lawyers have surpassed dentists with the highest rates of suicide.
  • Also not unusual: candidates that don’t have active bar licenses.

How HiringPartner can help: HiringPartner can be a great resource, especially when you need to move the process quickly. But whether time is a luxury you have or not, HiringPartner provides you with many options to improve your search, better assess candidates throughout the entire recruitment process, and learn more about your individual candidates.

Just how long should it take?

  1. What’s wrong with going slow?

It’s often claimed that hiring too quickly goes hand-in-hand with firing too slowly. Conventional wisdom says that taking your time to carefully vet, call references, and make sure that your candidate’s more important claims can be verified. Then once hired, make sure they’re carefully and thoroughly onboarded. For all concerned, it’s better that there are no surprises along the way.

Take your time, be thoughtful, and speed up?

There’s an argument to be made for speeding up the process: It’s all about the costs. Not your internal costs of the hiring process, but the potentially enormous cost of losing your top candidates.

While most jobs can take an average of 42 days to fill, the top candidates tend to disappear within 10 days. Therefore, it makes sense that the longer you take, the lower the quality of hires you’ll have at your disposal—especially if your process takes 30 or more days. And if you consider the additional costs of that lower-quality hire staying for years, you can see how these costs will add up: The total costs for slow hiring can be staggering.

And the unbilled billables: Not having enough associates to meet your business needs will directly result in revenue loss. The most obvious and notable costs will be in un-retrievable losses incurred while having unfilled revenue-generating positions.

Diminished productivity: You lose money every day that associate’s desk sits empty. Everyone else’s productivity on the team will also suffer with the missing support. The remaining team’s work and stress loads will rise together and this will lead to more errors, lower quality output, and even more possible turnover. When your process is too slow, you may also lose your targeted talent to your competitors that are making offers. If you calculate this damage in terms of how it helps your competitors’ bottom lines while it’s hurting yours, the costs become exponential.

It’s also possible that if a good candidate is longer on the job market, they’ll have the luxury of getting into a bidding war with multiple firms. You can see the advantage of hiring quickly when you’re the only firm a highly competitive candidate has only applied to. Before the competitive bidding begins, you can hire them before their market value peaks.

More for them, less for you: The irony is that by taking more time in your hiring process, you give your potential candidates more options and your own firm fewer. Depending on your pace, your top candidates may leave the race before you’ve had a chance to even interview them. Or, they may even accept a lower offer because it’s in the here and now and they may not have the financial luxury of waiting.

If you were able to tell candidates the exact number of days your decision will require, you could discourage them from applying to additional firms. They may also view a slow hiring process as a reflection on how the firm does business, an additional reason to drop out or reject your offer. A faster hiring process keeps top candidates more interested. It can also benefit your offer acceptance rates.

A slow process may also cause rejected candidates to never reapply. Increases in frustration will increase the odds that they’ll never reapply to your firm. This frustration can also makes its way to social media, forums, and job board reviews in the way of negative comments and feedback. Even current applicants could spread word about their dissatisfactions to their friends and colleagues. This could restrict your pool of quality candidates.

How HiringPartner can help: With HiringPartner’s software tools and ATS, you have all of the options at your disposal to move the process along as quickly as possible. Through HiringPartner’s dashboard, you not only have all of your resources in one place, you have the ability to compare candidates for all of the metrics that you value.

  1. Hire right the first time; no do-overs

As noted above, law firm turnover is very expensive, and complicated. Attrition is a given in law, but that still leaves a lot of room for improvement.

  • 15% of entry-level associates leave their jobs each year
  • For lateral associates—whom law firms have presumably more and better information about at their time of hiring—20% leave their jobs each year
  • Lawyers leaving the jobs for performance-related reasons have increased every year since 1999

You’ve screened candidates, interviewed them, discussed them with your team, and vetted them: what else can be done to ensure they’re going to fit and grow with the firm?

Assessment and emotional intelligence: Studies have shown that of the three variables that can be evaluated about aspiring candidates including raw intelligence, relevant experience and emotional intelligence (EI), a high score on emotional intelligence is more predictive of success than IQs and carefully constructed résumés taken together. Results have been replicated over cultures, professions, and with differences in experience, race, gender, and age. Organizations using these personal style assessments as part of their hiring process, training, and promoting have found:

  • Turnover rates reduced by as much as 70%
  • Productivity increased by as much as 140%
  • Bottom-line profitability increased by as much as 130%

A person’s EI quotient will be based on evaluating traits such as:

  • Emotional awareness
  • Accurate self-assessment
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-control
  • Trustworthiness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Empathy
  • Service orientation
  • Ability to mentor and to leverage diversity, political awareness
  • Ability to influence and communicate with others
  • Leadership
  • Conflict management
  • Relationship- and team-building
  • Collaboration.

Other widely available assessment instruments include the Birkman Method, the California Personality Inventory, Raymond Cattell’s IPAT, and the MMPI. Other recent developments include assessments for identifying “signature strengths” which help to determining an employee’s ability to use individual strengths in their work. These assessments will help your firm better gauge the personalities and attitudes of your hires so that you can have a more complete base of information: You’ll better know what you’re getting. This is how you’ll slot in new “players” so they properly complement you and other team members they’ll work with.

While not designed to evaluate mental health, they attempt to predict with a higher degree of accuracy how a law candidate may perform in ways that are more useful than LSAT or GPA scores or a candidates interning or clerking experiences.

A growing body of evidence is indicating a correlation between financial success and employee attitudes—employee attitudes can drive financial success and not the other way around. Determining employee attitudes can be a major step towards improving your law firm’s profitability.

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/