Opinion

At the moment, it seems that every City firm is looking to recruit. In this time of apparent boom, we are enjoying business growth and increased profitability. For firms to cope with client demands and exploit the current economic climate, we need the right lawyers with the right level of expertise to do the work. Competition to recruit is fierce, with lawyers often having the luxury of several options. In a marketplace where supply and demand are working against the recruiting firms, the temptation can be to make appointments in haste rather than wait for the best to arrive.

Part of the challenge is to find the candidates who answer both the short-term and the long-term requirements, but this can be hard to assess. Will the candidate fit in? Not just to relieve the immediate pressure and help to do the job today, but to be part of the process of taking the firm where it wants to go. Do their long-term career aspirations coincide with this path? Hence the classic interview question: “Where do you want to be in five years time?” But in the rush to recruit, firms are in danger of skimming over this point. Because many firms are desperate to fill a void, and to relieve the pressure on other employees – which is all very understandable – they may not pause to consider as fully as they should whether the individual’s personal career ambitions ultimately fit in with the firm’s future plans.

Conversely, lawyers in a hurry for a career change may not always do their research thoroughly. Ultimately, they are in danger of making a wrong decision, and a common pitfall is that they have looked only at a firm’s track record, rather than taking the time to understand the firm’s plans for the future and the role they potentially have in creating and/or shaping that future.

Aside from cultural and lifestyle issues, how many candidates rely almost exclusively on a firm’s track record and history when making a decision to move? Although this is important, it is far from the be all and end all, and such an approach is shortsighted. Every week we read about firms repositioning themselves, shaking off old images, moving into new markets and areas of expertise. The legal market is fluid and today change is the order of the day. Indeed, how many candidates ignore the fact that their career path within the firm – in essence their opportunity – has much more to do with the firm’s planned future than with its past?

How many ever consider turning the interview process on its head? Rather than candidates being asked where they see themselves in five years time, the interview provides them with the perfect chance to ask the firm where it is going. Such a question enables them to understand the firm’s business strategy and future, and thus their opportunities. At the same time, the firm can explore whether the candidate is the right fit for the longer term, as well as plugging an immediate gap. Perhaps there is a tip for candidates here – the kind of forward thinking displayed by asking such a thoughtful question is bound to make a lasting and positive impression.

A number of firms have gone on record as to their ambitious growth plans, even quantifying the recruitment challenge by specifying the desired head count after a given period – it’s not just about bums on seats, it’s about hearts and minds.

The smaller of these firms or teams offer unparalleled opportunities for candidates looking to really make a mark in a new home. In joining a small team at the start of an aggressive growth plan they have a real opportunity to help shape the future, both in terms of the culture and the business. However, precisely because the opportunity here is for individuals to play such an instrumental part, the risks already mentioned are even greater to these firms – so recruiting the right people is even more crucial.

Kirk Murdoch is UK managing partner at McGrigor Donald.