What 20 years as Solicitors has taught us about the best way to recruit legal talent

by Rhiannon Cambrook-Woods

I love the law. After all, I have spent my entire career working in the sector – first as a Solicitor and now in my current capacity as a specialist recruiter working with law firms like those I once worked for when I was in practice.

As I moved forward and climbed the proverbial legal career ladder, I inevitably began to take on greater responsibility and a wider range of tasks – one of which was the hiring function for my own teams.

But as many of you reading this will already know, the life of a lawyer can be a demanding one time-wise. And it’s not just those higher up the chain that are battling against the hours, trainees and juniors at the very start of their careers are also feeling the pressure.

Indeed, as part of Mental Health Awareness Day in 2016, Legal Cheek published the findings of a survey into the average working hours of the profession’s newest entrants, and the results made for harsh reading.

The survey of 1,500 trainees across 56 law firms found that not only were 10-hour working days commonplace within the industry, many respondents stated that they are been expected to work later into the evening – sometimes into the early hours of the following day. No wonder, perhaps, that LawCare report that around 30% of all calls they receive each year are related to workplace stress.

So what does any of this have to do with recruitment? It’s about two things: time and money.

In an ideal world, when recruiting for people to join my teams at each law firm I was working for, I would have dedicated the time that was needed to put together the recruitment advertising programme and sift through all the CVs received to create a shortlist of possible candidates for interview. Then finally, I would have conducted all the interviews, made the offer and drafted all the necessary paperwork.

But time is a precious commodity that most legal practitioners have in very short supply and I was certainly no exception. The best solution I had available to me was to utilise the services of external recruitment agencies.

Outsourcing may not be everyone’s first choice. However, when time is against you, as it was in my case, and the need to find someone to fill that all-important new role becomes increasingly urgent, you have to make a choice:

  • Do it yourself and risk prolonging the hiring process because you have so much on your plate already, or
  • Enlist support from those who do this stuff every day and in doing so, increase the chances of a successful hire sooner rather than later?

Sometimes, the decision is an obvious one, and that is what I did, many times.

Trouble was that rather than providing a solution to a challenge we faced (i.e. finding the right candidate) many of the recruiters we turned to ended up creating more issues for us.

What I mean by that is that although they would handle the initial advertising of the roles and CV sifting process, few truly understood a) the nature of the roles we were recruiting for and how they fitted in with the rest of the business, or b) the legal sector itself.

Of course, no one agency can possibly be expected to be true experts in each industry sector they operate. But as someone whose job it was to hire people at a number of law firms during my career, I did expect them to at least ‘get’ the requirements of the roles I was hiring for at the very least. Yet few ever did.

It was this that sparked the idea for what is now Zest Recruitment & Consultancy LLP – an idea borne out of the need to provide a legal recruitment service that we wanted for ourselves when we worked in practice.

So after 20 years working for law firms as Solicitors, Kate and I took the step into the world of recruitment, and it is a move that looks to have been a sound one to date. We’re still registered as practising Solicitors, only now we work with rather than for law firms.

The key thing I have learned throughout my career, both as legal practitioner and legal recruiter, is that to make the relationship between HR and an external recruitment provider work and do so effectively, a true partnership must be in place.

Just as a strong personal relationship is based on mutual trust and understanding of one another’s needs, the relationship you have with your recruitment partner of choice must be based on you feeling 100% confident in their ability to help you attract and recruit the best person ‘out there’, whether they be in the market or on the market. Only then will you be assured of a greater return on your recruitment investment, both in terms of the ensuring you gain greater value from the fees you are being asked to pay and in terms of the quality of your new hire.

The legal sector is at its most competitive in a decade, with law firms vying with one another to secure the best talent to work for them. Don’t leave your recruitment to chance – if you can commit the resources to do it in-house that’s great, but if not then choose your recruitment partner wisely.