Legal Recruitment: A Legal Recruiter’s Guide to Attracting the Best Talent

Written by Duane Cormell
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An illustration showing five CVs with one above the others, indicating the concept of legal recruitment

Law firm recruitment is top of mind for many firms in the UK and Ireland right now. To give an insight into how law firms can recruit talented staff in a challenging market, Duane Cormell, co-founder and managing director at specialist legal recruitment firm Realm Recruit, speaks to us about Realm’s latest research into what lawyers want. He also outlines the steps a law firm should take to refine its employer propositions and attract the best candidates.

When it comes to legal recruitment, gone are the days when law firms could advertise a job on their website and expect a stream of applications from suitable candidates. Nowadays, individuals are much more likely to be passive in terms of their approach to moving jobs, and therefore not actively on the hunt for a new opportunity. 

In Realm’s 2021 annual research, we found that just 20% of lawyers are looking to move. Couple this with increasing competition for talent from Northshorers or larger national or international firms, then to pique the interest of the best talent (who are unlikely to be in the market for a move) and grow sustainably, it’s essential that law firms review and refine their propositions as an employer and then take steps to ensure that their proposition is showcased in the best way throughout the legal recruitment process. 

Here are some tips from a legal recruiter to help you attract and retain the best talent.

Be clear about your employer proposition

Every law firm will offer their lawyers something slightly different. Firms will be strong in certain areas, but not in others. For some firms, their main selling point is the quality of work they deal with, whereas for others, it’s the flexibility they offer that sets them apart. 

When it comes to legal recruitment, law firms need to understand who they are as a business and identify the strengths and weaknesses of their employer brand. Those firms that have a thorough grasp of what they’re about and take steps towards strengthening and properly communicating their offering will be in a strong position to compete for talent, regardless of size or status. Speaking to current employees to understand their priorities and their perceptions of the firm as an employer is a good starting point.

Typically, if an individual decides they want to move beyond their current position, there will be one overriding reason (such as better pay, remote working, or improved progression prospects). That will in turn become a priority when seeking a new role. 

A strong employer proposition usually hinges upon two to three factors that will be a priority for some lawyers and will make your law firm stand out to those lawyers as a potential future employer. While gleaning feedback from current team members is certainly useful, it’s also worth bearing in mind the state of the market more generally in terms of what lawyers are looking for from an employer.

Offering flexibility 

Flexible working is no longer considered by jobseekers to be a bonus; for most people, it’s a necessity. In our research, we asked respondents to rate a range of factors based on how important they would be to them if they were to look for a new opportunity. For the very first time, flexibility has overtaken pay as the number one priority for lawyers, with 51% of people describing it as “very important” and 31% saying it is “fairly important”. 

Law firms that don’t offer remote working options will have difficulty attracting and retaining staff. Offering more flexible options and home working could give smaller or lesser-known firms the edge in the recruitment process, including when competing against larger national firms that still adhere to the traditional 9-5 and that are unwilling to adapt when it comes to recruiting some lawyers.

Is pay a dealbreaker?

After flexibility, the biggest single factor firms can meaningfully compete on is pay. A pay rise was the second most popular priority amongst the lawyers we spoke to: 41% said that achieving a salary increase would be very important to them if they were to make a move. 

For law firms unwilling or unable to increase the level of flexibility they offer to their employees, paying people well will become the primary way in which these firms can compete for talent. Using market research and by speaking with a specialist recruiter, firms should assess how competitive their remuneration is to ensure they are in a strong enough position to secure the right candidates.

It’s also worth noting that in the last 12 to 18 months, market rates in many practice areas have increased. This has been fuelled by a culture of counter offers that has emerged as law firms offer significant pay increases in an attempt to persuade their lawyers to stay.

Other important factors for effective legal recruitment

Other factors were also deemed important to the lawyers we spoke to, including an improved holiday allowance, a better culture fit and increased promotion prospects. It’s impossible for a law firm to appeal to every single lawyer. Instead, they should decide upon two to three factors upon which to base their proposition, e.g., flexibility, progression opportunities and quality of work, and invest time and resources in focusing on these things and doing them well.

Promoting your offering

Once a firm has refined their employer proposition and cultivated a strong employer brand, it’s crucial that they properly communicate their offering to prospective employees. Law firms should showcase what sets them apart in the careers section of their website, through PR activity (including in awards submissions) and on social media. 

When working with a legal recruiter, firms should ensure that the recruiter is well versed in its employer offering. This is essential so that the legal recruiter can effectively sell your offering to the candidates they speak to in the market on the law firm’s behalf.

To conclude, when it comes to legal recruitment, it’s essential that law firms invest time and effort into their offering as an employer. Doing so will ensure that they are best equipped to attract the talent they are looking for. 

The main ways that law firms can stand out to prospective employees are by offering greater flexibility and by making sure they pay well. In the current market, firms that do one or both of these things will be on the front foot when it comes to standing out to passive/inactive candidates. Those that fail to embrace flexibility or to pay their lawyers well enough risk missing out on the best people. 

Not sure where to start?

If you would like tailored advice on how to improve your attraction and retention (including salary benchmarking data), Realm Recruit’s specialist team are ready to help you. By contextualising your place in the market against your key competitors and offering comprehensive advice based on our research, Realm Recruit can help you bolster your employer brand and help you appeal to the lawyer you’re looking for. Contact Realm Recruit today on 03300 245 606 or email [email protected] to find out more.

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About Duane Cormell

Duane Cormell is a co-founder and director of Realm Recruit. He started Realm in 2015 with the aim of helping law firms improve their productivity and profitability through a refreshing, values-driven approach to legal recruitment.

He is an expert in helping law firms improve their employer brand, talent attraction and retention strategies, and employee engagement. His insight has been featured in national media (including The Law Gazette and Legal Futures) and he regularly speaks to legal audiences at conferences and events.

 

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