When It Comes to Legal Staffing, Small Firms MUST Keep Up with Big Law (and We're NOT Talking About Salary)

Where innovation is concerned, it’s rarely large, unwieldy institutions that lead the charge. In tech, for instance, start-ups drive new ideas while behemoths in the field rely on vast cash reserves to buy out innovation when it grows hot. Think Amazon snapping up Zappos in 2009, or Facebook purchasing Instagram in 2012. In the world of media, the same is true. Condé Nast bought Reddit in 2006. Axel Spring snagged Politico last year. In law, however, this doesn’t happen…and small firms ultimately pay the price. Nowhere is this more evident than where legal staffing is concerned.

It is a strange truth that the biggest law firms are also the field’s biggest trendsetters. Big Law establishes a new norm, and little law—that is, small firms nationwide—follow suit. Big Law changes course, and everyone else does the same. Twenty years ago, for instance, Big Law had a two-, maybe three-round interview process; a few years back, however, you would’ve been lucky to land a job after round five. Presently, in a world where employees are all-to-happy to walk away from a never-ending interview process to pursue other opportunities, Big Law is revising the norm…and they’re (again) scooping up top talent as a result. If you’re a small firm and you’re responding to instead of driving innovation, you’re not alone…but you’re certainly not in good company. If you ever want to get ahead in legal staffing, you need to do more than follow suit; you need to lead.

Three Tips from Legal Staffing Agencies for Getting Ahead of the Curve

Legal staffing agencies are on the front lines of helping firms land the hires needed for continued growth. This is what they’re saying:

1. Top Talent’s Priorities Are Fast Changing
Research shows that, from 2020 to 2021, concerns about remote work dropped by 7 percentage points. Meanwhile, issues with morale and being overworked leaped up 20 and 25 percentage points, respectively.

In practical terms, this means successful legal staffing depends less on providing remote work solutions and more on curating hiring packages that meet an individual employee’s wellness needs.

2. Money No Longer Does the Talking
Small firms continue to believe that the only way to compete with Big Law is to match (or at least try to match) Big Law salaries. Fear of legal headhunters scooping up a firm’s best and brightest with juicy offers remains a pervasive concern, and yet this does not reflect reality. Promising new lawyers increasingly prioritize quality of life over quantity of cash. An eye-popping salary won’t land you a hire if it comes with the expectation of inhumane hours and little work-life balance. While talented professionals continue to expect fair compensation, the factors that will lead them to choose your firm over others (and turn down any legal headhunters they encounter) are motivated by lifestyle rather than finances.

3. Endless Interviews Have to Go
While it was never okay to subject candidates to 10-rounds interviews, book-length employment quizzes, personality tests, and so on, in the present it isn’t even effective. The best on the market simply won’t be on the market by the time you’re sending out invitations to interview number six, and even if they are, the fact that your firm retains this practice will convince them to look elsewhere. An interview tells candidates as much about you as it tells you about them. What’s more, word gets around, so if your interview process doesn’t reflect market standards, you can expect that the best on the market won’t be knocking down your door.

If your firm is struggling to keep pace with those leading the pack—if you’re stuck anticipating the moves of Big Law and other trendsetters rather than setting your own hiring trends—it’s time to take the future of your firm by the reins and change course…stat. Book a call with me, Hiring & Empowering Solutions founder and best-selling author, Molly McGrath, and take the first steps towards turning around your people, processes, and profitability.

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