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February 22, 2022 Careers

'The pandemic has left its mark' on law firm talent management, legal tech CEO says

By Ari Kaplan
"Across the entire experience of law firm talent management, the pandemic has left its mark."

"Across the entire experience of law firm talent management, the pandemic has left its mark."

Stock photo.

Ari Kaplan recently spoke with Sang Lee, the CEO and co-founder of Thine, a technology company that develops and deploys prehiring and integration assessments. She is a lawyer and entrepreneur who has also owned and operated SJL Attorney Search and Volta Talent Strategies.

Ari Kaplan: Tell us about your background and the genesis of Thine.

Sang Lee: I am a lawyer, and after a couple of years of practicing law, I followed my dad’s path. He is an immigrant, and I am an immigrant. We believe in building businesses and taking risks, so I left the practice of law and became a recruiter. I then started a recruiting company and saw opportunities to become a consultant and a coach because I wanted to help law firms not just recruit talent, but I really wanted to help law firms retain and develop talent. I acquired a company that is now Volta Talent Strategies. A couple of years ago, I realized that by combining all of these experiences, [it] would allow me to support my existing law firm clients as they attempted to modernize their recruitment and development processes. That is how Thine came into being. Since I’ve been in the industry for a really long time and because I’ve been privileged to support so many firms in the Am Law 200 and beyond, I felt like it was not just an opportunity but to a certain degree a responsibility to support my clients by creating this incredible recruitment solutions platform to enable law firms to more effectively, more efficiently and more equitably hire their attorneys and then hopefully retain and develop them by using additional assessments as they integrate them.

Ari Kaplan: What do your various entrepreneurial endeavors have in common?

Sang Lee: The different endeavors that I’ve had the opportunity to drive, and be a part of, all connect to the larger picture of talent management at law firms, including recruiting, training and coaching. They all work together to ensure that law firm professionals can be their best selves.

Ari Kaplan: Thine recently gave me the privilege of interviewing a cross-section of talent management and recruiting leaders at Am Law 100 law firms on its behalf to produce a new report called The Rise of Innovation in the Recruitment of Lawyers in a Hyper-Competitive Market. Why was it important for your team to understand this group’s hiring challenges?

Sang Lee: We felt it was really important to get a sense of what the entire industry was feeling. We have been talking with our clients and hearing the same stories, but there hadn’t really been an opportunity for them to speak to one another. Typically, you have industry conferences and listen to thought leaders who have written papers or delivered keynotes, and because of the pandemic, we didn’t have the opportunity to engage each other in conversation. Since this is an industry that really wants to be in conversation and understand what their peers are doing, I felt that it would be really helpful to find a vehicle for law firms to feel comforted with the knowledge that so many peers in law firms were having similar experiences and were deploying similar strategies. For us, it is confirmation of what we know and what we see coming, and we really want to be of service.

Ari Kaplan: What findings from the research are most compelling?

Sang Lee: There are so many aspects of the research that moved us, such as that 77% of law firm leaders you spoke with are contemplating upgrading their lateral hiring process. I know that people are really upset about the lateral process because it’s expensive, ineffective, inefficient, exhausting and inequitable. I know that story, but I didn’t know that over three-quarters of the featured talent leaders are actively contemplating ways to innovate around their lateral hiring process, which is pretty exciting. It is compelling for the industry because it makes professionals who want to change things feel safer about doing so because they know that over three-quarters of their peers are likewise thinking about it.

Ari Kaplan: How has the pandemic impacted law firm talent management?

Sang Lee: I think across the entire experience of law firm talent management, the pandemic has left its mark. I was recently contacted by a law firm that wants to roll out a coaching program for all of its first- and second-years throughout all of its offices because those lawyers have never been in the office. It has two class years of practicing attorneys that have never had the experience of working alongside colleagues in person. The experiences of receiving assignments, doing the work, getting feedback and being evaluated, or even going for coffee with a partner or mentor have not taken place. As a result, if we are not attentive to the impacts of the pandemic, the “Great Resignation” will not be a moment in time, it will actually be an era; so paying attention to the impact of the pandemic is critical.

Ari Kaplan: In what ways can technology help law firms hire and retain talent now?

Sang Lee: There are specific ways that technology can make the process more efficient, such as with talent management platforms that help law firms collect data at the event level, while supporting scheduling and tracking to make the process more efficient. Generally speaking, we are all leveraging technology in order to make processes feel streamlined, feel modern and to collect data because the legal industry now seems more willing than ever to make hiring decisions, development decisions and learning decisions using data. I think that’s pretty exciting because the easiest and most effective way to generate data is by leveraging technology.

Ari Kaplan: Where are you seeing law firm innovation headed?

Sang Lee: Law firms are trying to figure out how to innovate around talent in many ways. Some are experimenting with innovative work-from-home strategies or implementing work-from-home policies and return-to-office protocols. There has been innovation in the traditional talent approach, but where you’re really going to see law firm innovation is by applying legal tech to test different solutions to a vast array of problems, such as inefficient recruiting, the absence of equity around talent management, contract inefficiencies, and legal writing, among others. The universe of legal tech offerings will continue to grow and evolve.

Editor’s note: This interview references research that Ari Kaplan Advisors, an independent advisory firm, conducted on behalf of Thine.

Listen to the complete interview at Reinventing Professionals.

Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change and introduce new technology at his blog and on iTunes.

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.