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Market and Communicate to Grow Your Firm

Water Well Before Sowing Recruitment Seeds
by Barbara Lewis MBA and Dan Otto MBA

 The sluggish economy shows signs of recovery.  Key indicators point to a second quarter upturn with the third and fourth quarters jumping out of the recession.  For law firms the manifestation will be increased work and the ramification will be additional employees.  

 Before leaping into the recruitment mode, make sure that all your employees, whether attorneys or support staff, have the proper amount of work and the appropriate type of work.  For associates the task is relatively easy if they record their work on timesheets.  However, for the support staff, the task is more difficult with no time sheets indicating the employees’ work performed each day. 

 Employees’ capacity for work is more than they usually admit.  Rarely will employees say that they need additional work; however, they are quick to complain about too much work. Oftentimes, this complaint is heard from people who find it difficult to delegate – one of the greatest cogs in the wheel of efficient operation.  If employees delegate their lower level tasks, they are able to increase their capacity for additional work.  

 Assuming that your staff is performing the appropriate tasks and they are overwhelmed, you need to hire additional employees.  Your first reaction may be to ask current employees if they know someone who would be interested in the position.  Although this may work some of the time, it’s a risky technique because if there is a problem with one of the employees, it oftentimes becomes both employees’ problems.

 So you resort to an advertisement in a publication that may be read by prospective employees.  Most ads state the requirements of the position.  Another option is to describe the firm, the duties and request a letter of interest.  It’s an employers’ market today, so you’ll be inundated by resumes.  You can afford to be very picky in this market.  

 In a recent job search for a legal secretary for one of our clients, we received 30 resumes and for a clerical position we received 85.  How can you quickly examine the candidates?  First, look at the cover letter.  Is it addressed properly?  Is it grammatically correct with no misspelled words?

 Next, call the person.  Does that person answer the phone in a pleasant manner?  If there’s voice mail, is the message pleasing?    Whether this employee is dealing with your other employees or your clients, the sound of the voice indicates a lot about the person.  Some people have answered their telephone in a mean spirited way only to change their tone dramatically when they discover why I am calling.  About half of the people I interview by telephone are eliminated from the running – based on their communication skills. 

 Oftentimes, employers take prospective employees’ word on their skills.  Yet, when the employee begins the job, he or she may not have more than rudimentary skills.  Tests help to eliminate the discrepancy in perception of skill set between the prospective employee and the employer.

 For the file clerk tests around alphabetical or numerical order, for example, eliminated many candidates who couldn’t alphabetize words or arrange numbers from low to high.  Many tests exist for various levels of personnel or you can develop your own.  The crack paralegal should be able to create a good paralegal test. 

 In addition to competency tests, law firms can also employ personality tests.  Many types of tests exist to assist firms in hiring people who are compatible with existing staff. 

 The next task in the hiring process is to check references – an absolute necessity.  Yet we consistently hear about employees’ poor performance and we ask about reference checks, there were none.  While you can’t get detailed information about employees these days, you can “listen between the words” and obtain a sense of the employee’s past performance. 

 The final task in the hiring process is incorporating the new person into the law firm with its existing relationships and friendships among the employees.  Some new employees quit before the week’s end, in part, because there is little orientation or direction in their new responsibilities.  The first few days should be carefully orchestrated to ensure that the new employee fast becomes integrated into the firm.

 Sooner than you think, law firms will begin hiring employees as the economy begins trending upward.  Now is the time to establish hiring procedures and to prepare for recruiting top employees.

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