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Step by step guide to successful lateral hiring

Attracting a lateral hire requires more than sending out a request for resumes.

To find the candidate it wants, the firm has to decide on the specific qualifications it is looking for. But more, it has to set a time limit for resume submissions, keep the candidates updated throughout the process, and make an offer the top candidate can’t refuse.

Here’s exactly what we want

The job begins with an outline of the qualifications and experience needed for the position.

But also list the characteristics needed for the job. If the firm is looking for a litigator, for example, tell the recruiter it wants someone who is assertive, enthusiastic, and so on.

Be as specific as possible. A vague description is an invitation for resumes from unqualified attorneys. It is not uncommon, for example, for a firm to tell its recruiter—whether internal recruitment coordinator or outside consultant—to look for attorneys with more than five years of litigation experience. But that can apply to any number of candidates.

A specific request should say the firm is interested in candidates who have served as a lead attorney in a trial or who have taken at least 20 depositions.

Set a four-week deadline

To limit the process even further, set a deadline for resume submissions. Set no deadline and the resumes will keep coming in forever. And as they pile up, the firm won’t act on the ones it already has because it will keep waiting to see the next resume that arrives.

Many firms think they have all the time in the world to decide on a lateral hire. They don’t. The longer the wait, the less interested that top candidate becomes.

A delay also tells the other candidates the firm doesn’t respect their need for an answer. And those candidates won’t respond to future openings.

Set up a submission cut-off date of three or four weeks after the advertisement first appears. That’s a reasonable amount of time to accept resumes. Don’t look at anything that comes in after that. More often than not, the firm will find what it needs in that batch. And if it doesn’t all it has to do is put out another advertisement.

Just calling to stay in touch

Throughout the process, keep the candidates updated on what’s happening. Few firms do that. They just leave the candidates in the dark until the decision is announced. As soon as a resume comes in the door, send a reply saying “Thank you for your resume. We received it and we will contact you by such and such a date.”

Laterals are impressed when a firm gets back to them within a few days and many continue to remain interested in a firm even though they don’t get the position.

From there on, update the candidates at least every two weeks even if it is only to let them know that the firm is still considering their resumes.

Send the rejection letters quickly. And don’t say the firm will keep a resume on hand for future consideration unless it really intends to do so.

A person to turn to

During the interview time, the candidates need a central point of contact such as the recruiting coordinator. The contact person should greet the candidates when they come into the office, escort them to every interview, and be available to answer questions. The contact should also be the one who signs the letters and makes the calls to candidates.

The irresistible offer

Now for the offer. It needs to be so compelling the candidate can’t say no.

Start with a call from the recruiting coordinator or from someone who has made a special connection with the candidate.

Then follow up with a letter outlining the position being offered, the compensation and an approximate start date. Mention any attractive points such as “we offer a comprehensive package of benefits.” If there is a relocation allowance, mention that too.

The letter should be signed by the contact person because that is the person who will be answering any questions the candidate has.

To close the deal, have other attorneys or even staff call to congratulate the candidate and urge that person to take the position.

Laterals like getting calls from people in the firm who did not even interview them. In some situations, those extra phone calls are what convince a candidate to accept.

The best hires may be hiding

Who are the best hires? They are candidates who are already happily employed. Do not look for candidates who are making a move because they are disenchanted with their current jobs.

The firm can find them through a legal search firm, which has contacts with attorneys who would not otherwise be looking at advertisements. But the best source of candidates is the firm’s own associates because word travels fast among them when a firm has an opening for a lateral position.

The firm can encourage them to refer other attorneys to the firm by offering a referral bonus. Some firms have offered bonuses as high as $5,000.

Related reading:

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