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How to Recruit Exceptional Lawyers at Your Law Firm | Explore Law Firms and Legal Advice

Across the country, many law firms face a competitive market for attorneys.

For example, the number of attorneys in the District of Columbia is almost half of what it was a decade ago. Alabama lost 19% of its attorneys and Ohio lost 9% of its lawyers between 2020 and 2021.

That’s why, when it comes to recruiting exceptional attorneys, there’s more to legal recruiting than compensation and want ads.

“Money is an important factor, but it’s rarely the real driving factor,” explains Carol Morganstern, a partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa, a global legal executive search firm, who specializes in placing lateral partners in San Francisco Bay Area positions.

“People are really looking for success, and then the money follows,” she says.

Recruiting is as much about a firm’s culture as it is about standalone hiring strategies. Here’s how to recruit exceptional lawyers to your law firm.

Be the Firm Where People Want to Work

“The key to good legal recruiting is having a place where good lawyers want to join,” Morganstern says. That means a place where lawyers work on interesting and complex matters within a culture that supports attorneys’ growth and development.

Culture is crucial, and having a good reputation helps immensely with recruiting, says Emily Berttucci, chief legal recruiting officer for Thompson Coburn LLP, a law firm with more than 400 attorneys in seven locations across the U.S.

Even in large markets such as New York City and Los Angeles, the relevant legal communities are usually still small enough that attorneys track which clients the firms serve, and they know the matters’ outcomes. The lawyers also know which firms take care of their people and which are terrible about doing so. And “savvy candidates do look at who is moving in and moving out,” Morganstern says.

If a firm wants fantastic attorneys, it needs to prove that it is fantastic, too.

Create a Growth Strategy, Then Create the Hiring Strategy

Successful recruiting requires a two-step strategy.

First, the firm’s leadership should create a growth strategy for the firm. The leaders should identify what growth they would like to see – in terms of business volume, type of clients and matters – both in the short- and long-term. They should determine how they will handle the logistical challenges that come along with that plan.

Then the firm should develop a strategic plan for hiring attorneys, customized to the specific vacancies – especially partners – that the firm is trying to fill. “Get buy-in for what you are looking for. Make sure that other people see the need for this attorney,” Morganstern says.

Firm leaders also should remember that senior attorneys are likely to have impressive resumes and great books of business when they’re coming for an interview. However, even an exceptional candidate may not be a good choice if they don’t fit within the firm’s growth strategy. “They just may not be the right fit for your firm at the time,” Berttucci says.

Market Open Positions and the Firm Itself

Marketing plays a huge role in recruiting, Berttucci says.

Firms should take care in crafting job notices, avoiding meaningless jargon. They should realize that when a firm describes itself as having a “fast-paced environment,” great candidates know these are code words for a punishing atmosphere and may run the other way, Berttucci says.

Know the Value of External Recruiters 

Berttucci encourages firms to develop relationships with external recruiters, who can often lead a firm to great candidates.

To find candidates, Morganstern learns exactly what a firm wants in an ideal attorney. She learns what role a new attorney will play in the firm. She researches how attorneys deal with associates, how the firm approaches the conflict landscape, and what type of book the firm is looking for someone to bring with them. She asks who the firm considers its peers, to understand where they are now and where they want to be.

Knowing the market – who is looking for a position and why they are leaving – can help the external recruiter bring the firm someone who fits its needs, Morganstern says.

Use Internal Staff to Find Candidates

Current attorneys can make an invaluable contribution to recruiting. They know the rockstars in their fields and who might be open to a new opportunity. Existing attorneys know who would get along with the team and fit with the firm’s culture, Berttucci explains.

At the same time, the attorneys represent your firm to those candidates. In doing so, “the attorney at your firm is the best recruiter. They’re your brand,” she says.

See Interviewing as More Than Gatekeeping

Prospective attorneys should meet with the people they would be working with as well as managing partners. And, whenever possible, these meetings should happen in person. There is only so much you can learn through Zoom or phone calls, Berttucci says.

During the meetings, firm leaders should avoid being too focused on gatekeeping, such as asking the candidate to prove they’re a good fit for the firm. However, “it is a mutual decision and a mutually beneficial relationship,” she explains. That’s why it’s important to be clear why joining the firm would be good for that person, too.

“Don’t forget to sell. Say why you want to be there, your colleagues are there, what makes the place special,” Morganstern says.

Search Slow, Then Act Fast

It can take a long time to find the right candidate – years, even. But once a firm finds the attorney it wants, it should act quickly.

“Time kills all deals. If it takes too long, it’s an opportunity to go sideways,” Morganstern says.

From a firm’s perspective, it may take time to coordinate partners’ schedules, draft a compensation package and run a conflict check. But a candidate may interpret these delays to mean the firm isn’t excited about them and the candidate should find a more enthusiastic firm, Berttucci explains.

Delays also allow other firms to swoop in with competing proposals. A slow firm may end up in a bidding war over a candidate or miss out entirely, she says.

Of course, compensation isn’t the only thing that a firm should work on when they prepare that offer. Firms should also be planning on how they will integrate a new attorney into the firm.

Recruiting success requires firms to be as strategic in setting people up for success once they’ve joined the firm as they are when hiring them, Morganstern explains.

Sarah Goldberg
Sarah Goldberg

Sarah is a seasoned financial market expert with a decade of experience. She's known for her analytical skills, attention to detail, and ability to communicate complex financial concepts. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Finance, is a licensed financial advisor, and enjoys reading and traveling in her free time.

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