Word for 2013: Empathy

Empathy is severely lacking in law firm recruitment, says Motive Legal’s Mark Brandon, who has come across partners who take three months to make a decision – and even those who go as far as to blank their HR manager


Mark Brandon
Mark Brandon

Having just observed the grotesque failure of yet another senior recruitment process – happily these days without any skin in the game, as it were – I have refined my conclusions as to what might be missing from much of the recruitment process in senior law: empathy.

Yes, empathy. There can be no other explanation for the almost callous level of disrespect that some law firms seem to routinely visit upon candidates.

I have written before about time passing differently for prospective employers and for candidates. When a candidate puts themselves into the minefield-cum-obstacle-course that is the recruitment process, time begins to pass very slowly for them, time in which their minds work overtime trying to figure out what is going on on the other side of the process.

They always want feedback where none is forthcoming, need to be kept moving smartly through the process, yet very often aren’t. Very often they are just left hanging, to the frustration of recruiters and sometimes also to HR professionals.

I lived through many such processes myself when I was a recruiter, processes that no matter how much I nudged, cajoled, reminded, urged, pushed, were all to no avail. Here are a few examples, just in case you’re in a firm where the processes are perfect (ha!). These may or may not accord with your experience.

I recall acting for one candidate where, despite excellent feedback after the first interview, we – HR manager and I – heard nothing; literally nothing, for six weeks, despite, towards the end, daily emails from HR to the recruiting partner. The partner finally came back to say yes, he would like to interview the candidate again, but that he was leaving the very next day for Argentina and wouldn’t be back for at least three weeks. Needless to say the candidate just gave up at that point.

Then there was the firm that did not give feedback from a second interview with a candidate represented by one of my colleagues. Repeated calls and emails were simply ignored. Three months later, the firm came back to ask whether the candidate was still available as they wanted to offer them the position. Needless to say they had already taken another.

Then there was the firm where, once again, neither I nor the HR manager was able to get feedback on a second interview with a very rare type of finance candidate who was perfect for the firm’s needs. Not only did the recruiting partner ignore the HR manager’s repeated, and eventually daily, emails, she related one day that she had managed to run into him in the lift and had asked him outright what was going on. He blanked her completely. Wouldn’t even look her in the eye, just blanked her and then walked out when he got to his floor without even acknowledging her existence.

There is a wonderful little internet acronym to describe any sane individual’s reaction to all this and it is WTF??? In case you have not come across that phrase, the first two words are ‘What’ and ‘The’. I’ll leave the ‘F’ to your imagination.

Such ignorant and rude behaviour on the part of partners displays, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion, another favourite internet acronym…), a complete lack of empathy. I would bet a lot of money that any of the recruiting partners in those examples would be scandalised, outraged and incandescent if they were treated with such disrespect, nay, contempt by a potential employer.

I would love to believe that firms are getting better, but I hear the same stories from recruiter friends as I did when I first started in the game. In some ways, current market conditions may have made things worse; firms can afford to ‘think’ about things for a long time because there is less market pressure to make the hire and there are fewer ‘slam-dunks’. The pity is that they don’t use the extra time to actually do any thinking, just let things drift, almost as if they think if they delay long enough the decision will make itself.

Funny enough, I think if partners simply tried to put themselves in the candidate’s position a little more often, that might make a real contribution to tightening up the process and making decisions – hire or not – a lot quicker, to the benefit of everyone.

So next time you ignore that nagging email from your HR manager about the candidate(s) you have hanging, just try to put yourself in their position, imagine how you would feel if you didn’t get any feedback after interview, or had been kept waiting for yet another week waiting for a decision.

It might make all the difference.

Mark Brandon is managing director of Motive Legal Consulting