November/December 2019

Practice Management Advice

Smart Growth: Deliberate Recruiting

John D. Bowers

The last two of these columns have described productivity metrics in order to alleviate timekeepers hopelessly swamped as well as diligencing the hiring question, complete with what work the new employee will satisfy. In this piece I cover how to execute a calculated hiring process in planning for smart growth.

Diversify Your Approach

There is no silver bullet when it comes to recruiting. If there were, the staffing industry would disappear as quickly as travel agencies did. Thus, when initiating your recruiting project, make time to learn about the career path of your best employees; understand their experience and the nuances of your market, but recognize that no two stories are alike. Next, create a concise job description—a simple Google search on the position title will yield initial results. Supplement your draft with your practice’s context and clearly define the duties and expectations of your position. Then begin a recruiting process using a number of channels, from job postings and placement firms to peer and staff referrals.

There’s barely anything exciting about job boards, to be sure. Even if you aren’t an intergalactic law firm, do ensure that your website at least offers contacting instructions for job seekers. LinkedIn offers an excellent option for posting jobs and perusing candidates, currently boasting 645 million registered users in 200 countries, though it is a fairly expensive option. Of course, there are both new (SimplyHired) and old (Monster and Indeed) job sites to choose from. You might consider ZipRecruiter as an aggregator for your posting since it publishes your open position to over 100 job boards and a ZipRecruiter staffer shadows each employer account, volunteering advice to enhance your listing.

Much like trying to develop business on a wish and a prayer, recruiting capabilities are severely limited if you develop no network. Yes, that means making time to get out of the office and risk fraternizing with people who may never help you in any way. But time and effort spent will pay vast dividends when a recruiter comes through with exactly who you need, a fellow lawyer hears of someone looking for a career change or a current employee recommends his or her friend or law school classmate. Be sure to thank these referral sources generously, just as you would if they sent you your next big case. Structure an employee referral program that financially incentivizes current employees to refer worthy candidates and rewards those employees after a measurable term of service.

Year-over-year relationships with staffing firms can yield discreet and timely service down the road. Negotiate a collaborative placement agreement with staffing firms. Of course, small firms hire less regularly than large firms in your market, so you can’t expect equivalent treatment. Be assertive, however, and you may uncover some flexibility. Help your staffing representative understand why a résumé or candidate didn’t make the grade so they can learn your business.

Evaluating Candidates

Involve stakeholders who will regularly work with the new hire in the interview process. The managing partner likely doesn’t have to meet all new employees, but do consider offering since such an interview will underscore how important the position is.

Once you have the right résumés and bring in solid candidates, check references and ask those references for a secondary reference: The response will reveal a lot about your candidate. Consider using a prehire personality test like the Caliper Profile or the Hogan Personality Inventory to objectively gauge the candidate in concert with—but never in place of—the in-person interviews and personal references.

If the position doesn’t report directly to you, weigh in on the hiring decision but allow the direct supervisor to make the final decision. Otherwise, the new employee may walk into an unnecessarily political work environment just showing up for work on Day One. Since you read about calculating the compensation package in the previous column, and have walked through a due diligence process that you can outline to any stakeholders, make your well-reasoned offer and then hope for the best.

Slate Performance Milestones

The most important part of recruiting may have nothing to do with your candidate or new hire. Before you sign your perfect hire and take your internal victory lap, define success for the position and get buy-in from the stakeholders. No matter the role of the new position, it must work within your existing team, incorporating their strengths and—most crucially—their weaknesses.

Before employment, be explicit about how the new position will integrate with your practice but also name measurable examples for how your team will support the new hire. Is the new hire a lateral bringing clients who require a practice area outside your firm’s wheelhouse? Identify training through the ABA, state and local bars or the Practising Law Institute for your support personnel to prepare that area.

Regardless of the stature of the position, plan a 90-day review period to informally collect feedback from colleagues. This offers a gut-check for whether the new hire is working out at all and, if that’s obviously the case, opportunities to appreciate their performance, consider action items ahead of a more formal review process and collect feedback to improve your orientation process.

After six months of getting up to speed at 75-percent billing realization rates, how long do you anticipate it will then take for the position to be revenue neutral at a 90-percent total realization rate? Develop a monthly carrot approach to recognize successes or encourage them rather than last-minute stick beatings when goals are not met after six months. The knowledge that someone is looking at the numbers and willing to raise them in a collaborative conversation is often accountability enough for motivated newcomers.

Seal the Deal

Be accommodating on questions about the offer and negotiate counteroffers only if they make sense. Surprises from candidates at this stage always signify a deeper meaning. Don’t let time elapsed and spent effort necessitate an undeserved offer: It’s far more difficult to fire an employee than it is to end it at any point in the recruiting process. Above all, if bringing them in the door is difficult, just imagine trying to work with them ... for years to come.

John D. Bowers

John D. Bowers is the chief operating officer at Patterson Intellectual Property Law, P.C. in Nashville, Tennessee. He also serves as executive director of the Tennessee Intellectual Property Law Association, is the treasurer of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators and is a former editor-in-chief of Law Practice and continues to serve on its editorial board. JDB@iplawgroup.com