Recruit to Your Official Legal Team Plan

By their very nature, hiring plans are fluid and subject to change. But you can’t alter your plan if you don’t have one to change. The art is being flexible while staying the course.

Let’s start from the beginning. The following questions may help you develop a plan:

  • What is the approval process to hire a replacement or an addition to headcount? Have you secured the necessary approvals? Do you have the authority and green light to engage a legal search firm?
  • Is there a specific position description and, if so, does it need revising or editing? Is it up to date?
  • What is the salary range for the position and are there incentive compensation components in the total package? For example, if it is a publicly held company, are there stock options? Is this position bonus-eligible? If so, what are the requirements for meeting the targeted bonus? Are signing bonuses available should you need them? Sometimes they are used for bridging a gap in compensation.
  • Does your compensation package cover all the bases? Generally speaking, the following are the package components: base salary, bonus, incentive compensation in the form of stock or a long-term incentive plan, paid time off, vacation, general medical benefits and a 401(k) or equivalent.
  • Where and how will you publicize this opportunity? Are there internal job or career boards, or will you use a search firm? What is the process for engaging with a search partner? Have you used search firms in the past? Are they specific to the legal profession? If not, you might want to vet the resources that focus on recruiting legal professionals.
  • Who will be involved in the decision-making process? Will it be a combination of legal and business professionals? How many interviews will be conducted? For example, will there be a phone screen (and who will conduct it) and then a combination of in-person meetings and phone interviews if multiple locations are involved? How will you secure and assess the feedback? Will the C-suite play a role in the hiring process?
  • Who will schedule the candidates? Who will coordinate internal scheduling among the legal team members and the business professionals?
  • Who will make the offer to the candidate? Will it be you, a search partner or the human resources department? (See article, “Comprehensive Strategies for Building Synergies With Human Resource Professionals.”)

Two of the most frequently changing dynamics we encounter are as follows:

One, an organization will have a compensation plan ready for execution and will bring it to market when a search is launched. The organization comes to realize it does not have accurate compensation data for its market, the search stalls and the organization needs to adjust the compensation (salary and/or bonus) to be more competitive. When this happens, momentum may be lost in building the talent pipeline, and the talent often moves on to other more attractive opportunities.

Two, and this issue can actually be more challenging than the first, an organization has unrealistic expectations of the market in terms of the availability of unique, specialized legal talent. For example, if a company is looking for very specific experience in a regulated environment in a very specific industry and will not consider non-industry experience, the pool of qualified individuals is likely to be very small. Having the flexibility to consider experience outside the industry or industry experience coupled with related practice area experience will broaden the search and yield more options.

Doing homework upfront regarding compensation in your geographic market and the availability of specialized legal talent in your market will help lessen the need for radical changes during the process. However, some adaptation to the market’s changing dynamics may be required during the course of a search. (See article, “Hiring Attorneys as a Reliable, Ongoing Process.”)

Compensation and incentive adjustments are probably the easiest tweaks to the recruitment process, assuming approvals can be secured. Moving beyond compensation, we have seen organizations focus their hiring requirements on what they need today, putting aside future needs. It is an easy temptation. We would encourage you to bring the plan back out and look at the five-year as well as ten-year trajectory. You might hire for today to alleviate a pain point but if that hire does not satisfy a long-term strategic need, you will have deviated from your recruiting plan. For example, hiring an immigration lawyer to address current employee visa issues would not be true to a plan that calls for hiring commercial transactional lawyers. (See also, “Strategies for a Successful Legal Succession Plan Part I: Cross

We have also seen companies respond to the market by blending their needs because they may want more than one skill set. If a company were active in acquiring other companies, for example, the need for legal operational experience would be attractive. If the company is really looking for an M&A attorney who happens to have legal operations experience, that would be a smart hire. But if that operational background is given precedence over the M&A experience, that’s an example of hiring for the needs of today. Those current needs may rapidly change. The longer-term needs identified up front will likely be the more enduring ones. (See article, “Strategies for a Successful Legal Succession Plan Part I: Cross-Training” and “Strategies for a Successful Legal Succession Plan Part II: Stretch Assignment, Special Project and Developmental Opportunities.”)

It’s perfectly fine to adjust to the dynamics of the marketplace, but not at the cost of losing track or sight of the long-term vision.