I regularly hear grumbles and growls about how difficult it is to hire a good lawyer for an in-house role. Let me kick this off with an example:
“Our company is the best! We have a fantastic culture, our people are amazing, the work is exciting, and we are a market leader.”
Sounds great! Until…
“We need to hire an in-house counsel, but we have been struggling. We have met a lot of candidates, around 10 or 12, but none of them seem to want the job and they don’t seem passionate about it. There were a couple who were okay but when we went back to revisit them they had already moved on. Also, despite us telling recruiters how much we can pay, they continue to introduce candidates who are over budget and wasting our time.
I don’t know why this is so hard. We don’t need a top level lawyer, just someone bilingual and who is interested in our company.”
There’s a lot to unpack here but rather than try to try to give an exhaustive commentary on this oh too common complaint, I thought a handful of basic ‘ruff’ tips might help.
1. Sell your company and the role!
Yes, you are screening each candidate for skills (can they do the job you need them to?) and fit (will they suit your company culture?), and thus you need to ask each candidate testing questions and ultimately decide whether to make him/her an offer or not. However, this is a candidate short market, at every level and in every area of it. Consequently, every company must ‘sell’; they must promote their business and role to each candidate – until they decide they don’t want them.
Start out by selling to the candidate, attracting them to your company/firm. You can always (politely) decline them later.
2. Don’t drag your feet
If you like someone, move on it! Don’t overthink it, or try to get tricky or tactical but delaying meetings or trying not to appear overly interested. If you like someone and think they could do the job, tell them so and move as quickly as you can.
If the person is good, you can bet that he/she is getting love from other companies and that your competitors are moving quicker than you are.
3. Go easy on the written tests
Written tests and assessments are becoming more common as part of interview processes. While it can sometimes be hard to see the value in certain standardized tests, most people interviewing with global companies will accept that it is an inevitable part of the interview process. What we are starting to see a little more of, however, are tests of drafting ability. Sometimes it is important to test this, particularly if the role requires specific drafting, although often this can be achieved by asking for a writing sample from the lawyer. If it’s not drafting that you want to test, but simply their ‘written English (or Japanese)’, isn’t the fact that the person became a lawyer and has professional work experience enough?!
Lawyers are typically busy people and more often than not will balk at a request for them to do written assessments, especially if other companies are not asking for it (see point 2).
4. Don’t freak out at current salary levels
Lawyers in private practice are typically paid very well. They also typically work longer hours than in-house counsel. Sooner or later, many lawyers in private practice eventually choose to move in-house, and often because they want to reduce their work hours. As a result, they understand and they expect that their salary will be reduced when they move in-house. Sometimes people will accept less money! Especially if it means they get to see their family again, and sleep regular hours again, and get their lives back. Law firms can be demanding and high-pressure environments and lawyers will often happily accept large cuts for less pressure (comparatively).
Again, and in summary, it’s a dog eat dog, candidate short market so use every tool you can to try to attract people. There is no one size fits all when it comes to hiring lawyers but selling, moving quickly, easing up on the written assessments, and staying open-minded as to current salary levels, will help.