Just ask anyone who's had to do it, and they’re bound to have their fair share of stories.
And it’s easy to see why. Recruiting entry-level lawyers is fraught with challenges and risks. How do you attract the best candidates with limited money and time? Who do you ultimately select? Will they fit your office culture? And how do you know they’ll stay once you’ve spent time and money training them? Throughout my time as a lawyer, legal recruiter and careers consultant, I have heard these questions time and again from employers of all shapes and sizes.
So here are some tips to increase your strike rate when it comes to sourcing, selecting and retaining graduate lawyers.
- Think Beyond ‘Seek’
It’s time to think outside the box. We’ve all used Seek, but there are plenty of other sourcing techniques which are more targeted and won’t cost the earth.
Leverage off referrals
Many of the most successful hires come from referrals, and the perfect place to start is with your own colleagues. Studies show that referred candidates tend to perform better and stay longer. This is because nobody knows your organisation better than your own staff, so they’re more likely to recommend the right fit.
Today’s graduate lawyers rely on the internet for their job search more than ever before. An increasing number of those graduates are joining professional platforms such as LinkedIn to better connect with prospective employers. This represents a unique opportunity for employers to screen a rich pool of candidates before making an approach, ensuring you only spend time on graduates who meet baseline criteria.
Use more targeted job boards
Posting a job on Seek can be useful. But at the graduate level, it can also generate an unmanageable number of applicants, many of whom don’t fit the brief. The key is to limit your advertisement to the desired demographic. At Leo Cussen, we run a free advertising service allowing employers to specify a target group of candidates based on criteria such as year of graduation, electives studied, and language skills. This means employers only target the lawyers they are after, and don’t get inundated with irrelevant applications.
- Offer Something Unique
The reality is that you’re not the only one looking for the perfect candidate. Your ideal graduate lawyer is likely looking at other employers too, and offering a higher salary no longer cuts it. Surveys show that 83 per cent of today’s ‘millennials’ choose their positions based on employee benefits. This opens the door to offering plenty of cost-effective benefits such as flexible work schedules, further training, and progression opportunities. This is an opportunity to leverage off the things your organisation does best. But remember to only promise what you can deliver!
- Look for the Right Things
Sourcing a good pool of candidates only gets you half way. The next step is making the right selection.
Make sure they’re well-trained
Although graduates are only at the beginning of their learning, there is little doubt that some hit the ground running quicker than others. One factor is the quality of their training, particularly at the Practical Legal Training (PLT) level. To increase the likelihood of a successful fit, it is important to make sure that a graduate has been through a comprehensive and reputable PLT course which teaches more than the bare minimum. PLT providers such as Leo Cussen ensure that graduates are trained to run simulated files, and help them to build technical, commercial and client-focused skills.
Be holistic and open-minded
Not every graduate has a distinction average from a sandstone university, with clerking experience in a top tier firm. Nor is that the background of every successful lawyer. Experienced recruiters will tell you that marks aren’t everything, and it’s vital to keep an open mind when assessing applicants. Strong evidence of commerciality, loyalty, and client relationship skills can be equally valuable.
Ask them to solve a real problem
Rather than administering a generic behavioural-based interview question, try giving the applicant a scenario which reflects a real problem they are likely to face in your organisation. Provide a period of time to prepare a solution and present it back. This gives you insight into key skills such as problem-solving and presentation. It also provides a contextual glimpse of how they might handle issues particular to your organisation.
- Develop a Pipeline of Potentials
Rather than waiting until you need a graduate lawyer, you might consider building a base of paralegals, clerks or legal secretaries. It can often be smart to hire these individuals while they are still in law school, as it provides an opportunity to get to know the candidate prior to considering them for a graduate position.
Another option is to host a graduate for an initial period of work experience (for example, a PLT placement). This provides an opportunity for you and the graduate to perform a ‘test run’ before any commitments are made.
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