The Personnelity

You’d have thought it was pretty obvious that hiring the right people is one of the most important strategic issues for a law firm. Look how obsessively everyone is discussing the salary hikes, for example, as if they couldn’t have been predicted. After all, how else were top City firms going to try and square the US circle? (As for the medium to small firms, just make your decision. Increase pay or don’t increase pay, but stop banging on about it.)

Anyway, with corporate partners in particular baying for more resources, managing relationships with external recruitment professionals has become a lot more important. And here is where a certain creative tension creeps in.

HR heads usually grumble about certain consultancies’ habits of sending out streams of CVs, and there are more generalised complaints about service levels.

On the other hand, recruiters – usually adept at concealing their exasperation with the clients they wine and dine – have a clear idea of the most effective ways they should be used (and that doesn’t mean a no-quibble fee arrangement).

So we compiled the top 10 pointers for HR departments from recruiters:

1 Although the quality of human resources expertise varies massively from

firm to firm, larger firms tend to be the worst offenders. Many a promising candidate has got lost in the welter of bureaucracy, and decoding the internal power struggles at some firms would tax the sharpest Kremlinologist.

2 In some firms there is doubt over who has the authority to do any hiring at all. Is it the partner? Is it the HR head? Letting the HR head have some authority is the best way forward – although the best way of all is to hire an HR professional who’s got the chutzpah to grab a partner by the lapels and say: “This candidate is the answer to your prayers. You’re seeing her at 9am tomorrow.” Recruiters prefer dealing with HR professionals who run the process and don’t cower at the sound of a partner’s footfall in the corridor.

3 It’s no good telling recruitment consultants to build relationships with partners one minute and then ordering them to route everything through HR. Either you let the partners drive it or you don’t, and if you do, just make sure you’re clued in on all correspondence.

4 Feedback is minimal at some practices. They can interview a good candidate, but then leave that candidate in the air for weeks. And then they wonder why their bitterest rival has nabbed them.

5 The number of firms which don’t put together a job spec is extraordinary. It’s not quite enough to say that corporate assistants are just going to muck in and do whatever is going. And make sure you’ve got the salary straight right from the off.

6 Too few firms make an effort at selling the firm or the department. Recruiters have to deal with hundreds of firms, so don’t be surprised if they fall back on clichés about yours if you don’t give them the right material (and that doesn’t mean a brochure).

7 Make sure your partners take the thing seriously – badger them to turn up to the interview. HR professionals may be better equipped to deal with an interview, but the candidate still feels fobbed off if there is no partner present.

8 For the most part – and there are honourable exceptions – US firms in London simply haven’t got the resources to set up and manage the process.

9 At the other end of the scale, accountants can fall prey to too much process. Assessment centres and horrific numbers of forms to fill in put candidates off.

10 Smaller firms are almost universally described as better at managing the process, for the simple reason that the HR professionals or recruitment partners are more visible, and therefore more influential.