Common Recruiting Challenges in Law Firms and How to Solve Them

Eric Mochnacz
May 3, 2024

In the fast-paced world of law, where you only want the best lawyers representing your firm and your clients, finding the right people with the right skills is critical to business success and your industry reputation.  The current talent market is competitive, and your client demands are ever-evolving, so law firms need a smart, strategic, and effective approach to recruitment.  Let’s explore some of the common challenges law firms face in recruiting and how working with an HR consulting firm, like Red Clover, can help you overcome them.  

Attracting the Right Candidates

The Problem

It’s difficult to find the right candidates for your law firm.  First, consider the cost of entry.  One, the candidate must have a law degree.  Second, they are required to have passed the bar to practice in your state, and potentially in other states where you operate.  Then, they need to specialize in a specific area of the law.  This naturally creates a limited pool of talent from which to choose, and even the credentialed lawyers who are looking for work may not have the appropriate skills needed to be successful at your firm.   

Also, the demand for legal services has increased year over year, as society becomes more litigious and individuals and companies rely greatly on legal counsel, both external and internal, to protect themselves.  It’s challenging for law firms to know the right time to hire, because you want to hire in anticipation of a client need, but if you hire too early, you’re paying for someone who may not make up their salary cost in billable time. 

Then, not only do you need to focus on finding the person with the right skills, you want confidence in knowing the person you hire is a strong cultural fit and will maintain your firm’s reputation.  So, attracting the right candidate and making the best hiring decision turns out to not be as straightforward as you anticipated.  Talent attraction and acquisition is complex, especially for the legal industry.  The legal industry isn’t invincible to the shift in the expected employee benefits, specifically flexible and remote work.  More job seekers, across all industries, want to work remotely or hybrid.  Can law firms compete, especially if they value in-person work, and lawyers are often required to be in person to support clients and attend hearings?

The Solution

Have a clearly articulated and accepted talent profile.  In the job description you develop with HR through the job briefing discussion, outline the non-negotiables for a successful candidate and what areas you are willing to provide flexibility.  This provides a focused approach to sourcing and interviewing talent.  Candidates who don’t meet the basic criteria don’t make it past the first phase, typically resume review.  HR can set up their applicant tracking system to eliminate individuals who don’t meet the “price of entry” criteria.  Then, through an intentional recruitment process, using relevant and job-specific questions, your law firm works closely with HR to determine fit based on the clearly established requirements in your job description.

Posting a job to a job board can be time consuming, and anyone with a law degree may just apply because they want to work.  If you have clearly defined criteria, you are able to source for candidates (mainly through LinkedIn) and reach out directly to lawyers open to work who meet your very specific requirements for the role.  Although this may take longer to identify top candidates, the candidates you see definitely meet the expectations of the role, and your recruiting team has already been able to develop a relationship with the candidate before they have the final, decisive interview.   

Proficiency with Technology

The Problem

Technology is ever-evolving.  Either your law firm isn’t keeping up with current technology trends or lawyers looking for jobs aren’t skilled up in the most current technological advancements.  Partners can be resistant to change, meaning they haven’t stayed current on ways to remain competitive in a technologically forward world of work.  If you make an initial financial investment in technology, you are committing to ongoing learning and development initiatives, as well as ongoing upkeep as technology advances.  Smaller firms may not be able to commit that much money upfront, and ongoing, to keep pace with the speed at which technology moves.  Clients may also be reticent to adopt technology tools, because of the perception it may be replacing the actual people whose expertise they are paying for.

The Solution

Complete your due diligence with your HR partners to make the best decision for your firm.  Determine what needs are better met with technological solutions.  Assess the immediate and long term cost.  Recognize what tools you’ll need to teach new hires to use and integrate that into their onboarding or learning and development plans.  If it’s an industry standard tool that you expect all candidates to know, develop a skills assessment as part of the interviewing process.  Throughout the recruitment process, communicate how this technological knowledge is critical to their success and they will need to demonstrate practical knowledge.  Finally, the successful implementation of any technology is conditional upon effective communication of its use and benefits.

Employee Retention

The Problem

Everyone knows a law firm’s ability to make money is directly related to an attorney’s ability to bill time.  Lawyers need to work hard to manage current clients, increase services to those clients while also acquiring new clients.  These expectations create significant challenges in supporting work-life balance at your law firm.  In turn, lawyers are more likely to experience work related stress and burnout.  Depending on your firm structure, associates may not see a clear path for career advancement.  If your employees don’t see opportunities for growth, they will search for a firm where they know they can experience professional growth and have a chance at partner.  With the perception of the firm hierarchy and its potential limitations, employees may also perceive a disparity in pay across all levels of the organization.  If you can’t clearly articulate why and how you pay people what you do, you will be challenged in retaining legal talent.

The Solution

Have a clearly outlined career advancement plan.  Have a transparent compensation structure outlining your salary bands and rationale for pay.  Clearly outline “what good looks like”, so attorneys in your firm know what behaviors they need to exhibit to move up the organizational chart and increase their pay.  To avoid burnout, clearly establish your expectations for billable hours and make the concrete decision to be a firm that values work-life balance.  Even if you can’t stop associates and attorneys from working late hours, you can provide generous PTO and when your team uses their PTO, they are able to fully disconnect.  This may be a novel idea for the legal industry, but by choosing to be progressive in your practice, by focusing on employee wellness,  you set yourself apart in the industry and improve your chances of retaining top legal talent. 

Time Shortages

The Problem

Speaking of time, another recruiting challenge for law firms is key decision makers’ ability to devote time to the recruitment process.  Partners are often the decision makers for the firm, and its difficult for them to take time from running a law firm to devote their attention to hiring.  Not to mention they also need to me client needs, and clients will almost always take priority over internal work and responsibilities.  And when you rely on billable hours to remain profitable, non-billable work is not the priority, especially since recruitment tends to involve lots of administrative work that takes away from client work.  And since law firms tend to focus on hiring billable resources, they often don’t have appropriately skilled HR resources to develop and execute their recruitment strategy. The truth of the matter is if building your team is a priority to meet a greater client demands, then you need to commit time to the recruiting process.  If it isn’t a priority, it will never be a priority. 

The Solution

If your law firm is committed to growing, and proactively addressing recruiting challenges, then you need to devote the appropriate time to recruiting.  It needs to be a priority across all levels of the organization.  Develop workload expectations so everyone understands how much time they need to devote to recruitment while still meeting client needs.  If you don’t have the appropriate internal HR resource, partner with external HR and recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) consulting firms to do the heavy lifting for you.

Ensuring a Strong Recruiting Process

The Problem

Sure, you committed to recruiting, but you can’t find the best legal talent by throwing darts at a dartboard.  Effective recruiting requires a strong recruitment process.  Oftentimes, individuals who don’t have direct human resources experience give it their best go at recruiting, but they miss the mark.  Either they ask questions that tell them nothing about a candidate and how they will do the job – yes, I’m talking about “What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?”  Or the process is too long, requiring 4 or 5 interviews stretched over months.  That’s an easy way to lose candidates and tarnish your firm’s reputation in the industry.  The other challenge in recruiting is you have decision makers who disregard the law (I know, ironic for a law firm) and potentially engage in unlawful hiring practices by stating they know if someone is going to work out within the first five minutes of meeting them or asking questions that violate laws around fair hiring practices. If we were to distill the problem, it’s you may be a legal expert, but you probably aren’t an HR expert (unless, of course, you work in employment law.)

The Solution

Work with an HR consulting firm who specializes in HR process overhaul.  Specifically, one that can evaluate and improve your recruitment process, implement proven HR practices to remain compliant and up to speed on human resources trends, train your team in interviewing, and ensure you remain compliant in your recruitment practices. Develop a structure to your interview process, and generally, don’t require more than three interviews and close roles quickly and communicate anticipated timelines with candidates.  Candidates are perceptive, and how you treat them during the interview process is how you will treat them as an employee.  A disorganized or drawn-out interview process tells them all they need to know about your company, and that may mean loss opportunity in finding great legal talent.  

Level Up Your Law Firm Recruiting with Red Clover HR

Are you ready to keep pace with client demands and the job market?  If you’re ready to commit to recruiting in earnest with strong recruitment practices, it’s probably time to work with an HR consulting firm.  Let Red Clover take care of your recruiting so you can get back to running your firm and solving the world’s legal problems.  We have direct experience in helping law firms level up their HR and recruiting function.  Let’s talk to see how we can put that expertise into practice for you!

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

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