Recruiting a new lawyer or lawyers into your team is a major decision.
You may need to fill a vacancy when someone moves on or you may need more resources to deal with a new area of work or cope with an expansion of existing work.
You’ve decided that the best way to meet this need is by recruiting rather than using an alternative option, such as by outsourcing or in-sourcing from a law firm, barristers’ chambers or from an alternative legal services provider.
If you’re responsible for recruiting you’ll know that it can be a time consuming exercise but also one that it is important to plan for and devote time and commitment to. After all, a good recruit can add great value to the capacity and reputation of the legal team and you may be recruiting a future leader.
1. Think and plan
If you’re replacing a lawyer who’s moving on, the temptation may be to look for someone with the same type and level of experience. This may certainly be the best short term option, particularly if you need to act quickly. But you will (hopefully) be recruiting for the longer term, so it pays to think about what skills you need generally. For example, someone with broad commercial experience, good legal skills together with excellent client rapport and communication skills may be a better longer term appointment than someone with more specialist experience but who is not as good in other areas.
Similarly, if you’re recruiting to deal with an upturn in existing work or take on work in a new area, you’ll need to balance the need for legal experience in the particular area and a desire to build a flexible, responsive legal team that can adapt to changing demands in the organisation.
Take away – don’t rush to judgement, think about the longer term and the skills and competencies you need across the legal team.
2. Get involved
Many organisations have established recruitment processes run by their HR team, which you will want to use, including perhaps the use of external agents for some positions. At the same time, make sure that you (and appropriate members of the legal team) are involved and that the process meets your requirements. For example, you may have input into the job description which you can frame to ensure that it covers the duties, opportunities, experience, skills and competencies you’re looking for. It also gives you the opportunity to sell your organisation and, particularly, the legal team. Plan also how you will assess candidates for interview and how those interviews will be structured. You will, of course, want the process to be compliant in all respects and reflect best practice.
Take away – use established procedures but emphasise your particular requirements and plan how you’ll meet these in the recruitment process.
3. Assessing candidates
Hopefully, you’ll attract some excellent candidates for the role. But you will need to be clear about what you want candidates to demonstrate. Of course, you want to attract talented lawyers who will add to the performance and reputation of your team whilst also supporting the organisation’s ambitions in relation to diversity and inclusion. In assessing what candidates need to demonstrate, it will be useful to think about what success in the role looks like and what makes up that success. Different organisations use different systems to achieve this although it’s likely that you’ll want to test ability, experience, behaviours, strengths and technical knowledge and skills. For lawyers, technical expertise will cover their legal knowledge and skills but you may also want other factors that you deem vital to carry out the role and to be a member of the legal team - such as:-
- Business acumen/awareness
- Technology skills
- Social intelligence
Take away – make sure you assess the skills and attributes you need in your lawyers and consider how you’ll do this
4. Psychometric tests
Many organisations use testing as part of their recruitment processes. They believe that tests produce objective data that is useful to those exercising their judgement when making hiring decisions and that it supports fairness and accuracy in the process. What is tested, how and when can vary depending on the methods used but they are generally concerned with assessing factors such as intelligence, reasoning, character, strengths, weaknesses, motivation and working style. While such tests are widely used and perceived as helpful, they have been criticised where used without any other analysis of the particular role in question and particularly of the competencies and behaviours required to carry it out effectively. It’s therefore important that the information and data resulting from the tests are understood and properly applied by recruiters. But as a tool to support recruitment by giving recruiters more information about candidates, such tests can provide helpful insights.
Take away – your organisation may already use tests as part of its recruitment and development procedures. If so, make sure that you and those making hiring decisions understand what the data is telling you about a candidate and how it supports your decision making.
Whatever assessment methods you employ, at some point you’ll want to interview your chosen candidates. The interview gives you a great opportunity to assess the candidate’s suitability for the role. At one time competency based interviews were the norm but many organisations have moved away from these in favour of interviews that give greater insight into the strengths, character and working style of candidates. Who sits on the interview panel may vary as might the number of interviews, although at least a two-stage process would be normal for lawyer roles. In any event, you will certainly want the line manager and the GC or head of the team to be involved in the interview process at some point.
Take away – interviews can tell you a lot about candidates and their suitability for the role. But they need to be well structured and you need to make sure that you get the information you need. They also provide a great opportunity to sell the role and the team.
6. Recruiting future leaders
It can be tempting to recruit only for a particular role, especially where there’s an urgent demand. This may drive you to only look at candidates with a specialist skill-set who can most easily hit the ground running. But this may be short-sighted as you may miss the opportunity to look at candidates with the ability and aptitude to develop into not only excellent in-house lawyers but also future leaders in your own, or another, organisation. Ultimately, you want the best lawyers and that won’t always mean those that are the best ‘technical fit’.
Take away – don’t get too focused on the immediate but think about how a talented, ambitious and socially intelligent lawyer could benefit the team and the organisation.
7. Saying No and recruiting more than one candidate
You may find that none of the candidates you interview are really right for the role. The temptation might be to hire one anyway, particularly if there’s an urgent demand. But hiring in haste may backfire. Better to stick to your convictions and say “No” and return to the drawing board. Alternatively, you may find that you have two excellent candidates for one role. If you have the budget, you might regret not taking the opportunity to hire both candidates if you think they’ll be great additions to the team. If you run a bigger team another factor here is staff turnover. It’s always possible that someone will leave during the year, making it important to view the staff budget annually rather than month to month.
Take away – if you’re not sure, don’t hire in haste. Better to regroup or look at other alternatives. But if you have two great candidates (and have the budget) there may be lots of good reasons to employ both.
8. In-house trainees
They’re still pretty rare, other than in a handful of large in-house teams. Taking a trainee is an important commitment and you need to be able to provide the necessary breadth of training to meet the regulatory requirements – although an arrangement with a partner law firm may solve that issue and allow the trainee to gain good experience in particular training seats. There is an obvious attraction in being able to develop your lawyers from the start of their career and is something well worth considering if you believe you can do it well.
Take away – it’s not for everyone, but if you can make it work having one or more trainees can be a great way to not only provide training opportunities but also to give you future lawyers that you can develop from the beginning of their legal career.
Getting recruitment right really matters and recruiting well is a key success factor for in-house legal teams and their leaders.
You want to recruit talented lawyers who will work hard and conscientiously to support your ‘clients’ and who will strengthen the team and enhance the reputation of the legal function. Get it wrong and that hard won reputation can quickly begin to suffer.
It therefore pays to devote time and effort to recruitment by developing (with your HR colleagues), sound, compliant systems and processes that give you the best chance of hiring excellent lawyers while always ensuring that line managers and heads of department are fully involved in the process.
The recruitment process also gives you the opportunity to showcase your department and the wider organisation. And if the legal team already has a good management, training and development culture this should make recruitment easier as you will be more attractive to good candidates.