How to WIN the Talent War:

Recruiting lateral attorneys (or anyone), more effectively.

Much has been written about the Talent War raging in the legal industry in 2021. There are signing bonuses, guaranteed year-end bonuses and, according to American Lawyer Magazine, firms hiring associates without even an interview - and still the “war” rages on without clear winners.


As we discussed, in Has the “Great Resignation” hit the legal profession?, part of the reason for this “talent war” is law firm turnover is at an all-time high – as is corporate turnover.


Four Steps to Improve Attorney Retention, our second piece, discussed how improving retention at a time like this is still the key strategy to satisfying clients, improving productivity and your bottom line. But, with demand for legal services at perhaps an all-time high in certain practices, mere retention is not enough. You need to recruit laterals more effectively.


In our practice, we see firms who don’t have a clear message about their unique strengths, sell the same “differentiators” as every other firm and treat candidates as if they were plentiful. Perhaps it is a part of our DNA that we expect candidates to still apply/compete for a job not realizing that as managers and owners we are now the ones competing for talent. We don’t realize that what we say, how we say it and even the process and timing are key contributors to successful recruiting. In our experience with corporate and law firm clients, we have seen a tremendous focus on money to the detriment of these other important factors. How do you improve your competitive position in successfully recruiting the lateral talent you want?

Here are six steps to follow to help you win the “Talent War”:

1) Gather Information for/from your existing team as described in the last blog: Four Steps to Improve Attorney Retention. This provides insights into what is truly important to internal stakeholders and can be a guide in attracting similar folks. While you cannot run your firm according to everyone’s wishes, you will notice important trends that you can address. Further, use feedback from your recruits, successful and unsuccessful, to help you improve.

2) Vet Recruits More Effectively: One guiding principle for the interview process: Ambiguity creates anxiety or at least uncertainty. Often too little actionable information is exchanged during interviews. Here are some tips for how to sell your organization’s strengths more effectively and better vet your candidates/lateral prospects.

  • Vetting: Structure the interviews in a way that makes sense. First, focus on getting to know candidates:
    • Be genuine: show a genuine interest in them. Be prepared. Have strong questions ready. Start broadly with questions that are easy for your prospect to talk about, like their practice, and what they enjoy about practicing.
    • Go deeper: to understand your prospect including: What are their goals and why? What have been the obstacles for them in achieving those goals? What is important to them about their work environment? What is important about their supervisor? What is important to them about their colleagues?
    • Personality traits/behaviors & values: do you know the traits of your best performers? Matching traits to culture means you have more successful longer-term employees and partners in your organization. Focus on Behavior-based questions to understand their traits and how they will fit in with their co-workers. There are several good testing resources, and consultancies who can help you determine the traits of your best people, and The Advocates performs this task for our clients as part of our recruiting work. It has tremendous benefits including much reduced turnover. Once you know the key traits that determine success in your organization, design and work on asking behavior-based questions that can help you understand your lateral prospects traits and what motivates them. Again, there are organizations (including ours) that can help you do that work or at least show you how. Some excellent resources include: Topgrading, by Bradford Smart, and a SHRM Guide: Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)Guide to Behavior based Interviewing

3) Sell the Organization: Focus on sharing information about your firm or corporation:

  • Know your unique strengths: what makes your department, office and firm a special place to work? Do we all agree on those strengths? Use the results from employee surveys to validate your strengths. Strengths differ for each target person, level and position in your organization.
  • Construct and share a consistent message from the recruiting team, the partners and the associates the potential lateral attorney will meet with. It’ll make the firm more credible.
  • Stay away from buzzwords and back up your claims: we are all trying to exploit synergies, and today everyone says they are collaborative, working in teams in an entrepreneurial environment. If that is true, it is powerful, but you must be specific. That means using statistics that make your point for you and in the absence of statistics sharing personal stories about your experience that can help the lateral prospect see themselves there. People glean general or macro points from the specifics shared – not the other way around.
    • Target your message: Since you should now know their needs and goals, the work environment they prefer, and their traits, you can focus your message on how your organization supports their specific desires.

4) Move Quickly and Efficiently: Do not have ten steps to your recruiting process. Three rounds of meetings for associates tops (more for partners).

  • Get it done – timing and a lack of communication between interview steps often creates ambiguity and a sense that you are not that interested.
  • Communicate between meetings – let them know it went well, specific positives and things you’d like to learn more about. We hear from associates and lateral partners complaints about the deafening silence and long period between rounds of meetings. It creates insecurity in the best people. Move quickly and make sure they get the information they need as well.

5) Don’t low-ball the offer: Play win-win.

6) Integrate Successfully: There are literally books written on this and the above two areas, and this is too long a topic to discuss in detail here (watch for future blog post on the topic!), but some basics:

  • Between acceptance of your offer and the start date with your organization, have key people reach out. It is important to discuss client moves, set up training if you have it, and other important details to be reviewed. Also, have people designated to take them to lunch, coffee if they have time and have key partners make check in calls to foster on-going communication and teambuilding.
  • Remember, ambiguity creates anxiety. Communicate every detail, every important date, their schedule, whatever is important to your firm through a 90-day integration plan with milestones. Their supervisor should meet monthly to go over progress against those milestones.
  • Assign a mentor. Someone who is there for questions, to talk through the culture of the place, the norms, etc.
  • Computers, desk, monitors, business cards, etc. all should be ready on their start date.
  • Communicate internally the new hires start date and have people stop by to personally welcome them.
  • Have the new hire meet key team members, internal and external clients, etc. in person. This should be part of their onboarding plan.
  • In law firms: integrate them in working with other lawyers immediately – it is the best way to feel a part of things. In a corporate legal department: have them meet with and work on business partner matters immediately.

Obviously, our client interviews help us define much of the information needed to successfully recruit people and our involvement in the process ensures they are sold effectively through our feedback and coaching of both parties. Finally, we always assist and provide feedback on the integration process for about a year. But whether you can hire us or not – doing the above will make you more successful in your recruiting efforts.

Any Feedback? Questions? We can help. Feel free to contact me at or (303) 825-2600.



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