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Associate hiring is now up among law firms nationwide as they strive to get back to normal in a post-pandemic world. This rebound in hiring is creating a number of new jobs for attorneys. Law firms are needing to make their jobs more appealing with added hiring bonuses and employee perks in order to draw the right talent. Many firms choose to work with legal recruiters to help them create hiring packages that appeal to new hires.

Demand for New Associates up Since Start of the Pandemic

In May of 2021, new job offers for lawyers were up 150% since the start of the pandemic. There were over 8,000 jobs for lawyers of all levels at that time. Of those, 6,0000 were specific for associates. This data shows that hiring is up as firms seek to recover after the impact of the pandemic, and the majority of those hires are associates. These are tremendous numbers to consider, especially in light of how much the number dropped during the height of the pandemic. This is a significant rebound after a drop of nearly 50% from 2019 to 2020.

Law Firms Seek Help of Legal Recruiter Firms to Entice New Associates

With this increased demand for associates, many law firms are looking to attract talent with better hiring packages that cause potential new hires to choose their firm over the competition. Because there are so many job openings, associate attorneys have the freedom to be picky about the jobs they take. Working with legal recruitment professionals can help make hiring packages more appealing. Large hiring bonuses are becoming commonplace as firms try to make their job opening the most appealing to new recruits. 

Many New Associates Working Remotely

Another interesting trend that has hit the legal industry in 2021 is a rise in remote associates. The pandemic took much of the legal world and made it remote, and now law firms are continuing to attract new talent by offering remote positions. This also allows firms to find talent in a highly competitive market because a legal firm can hire an attorney that is not residing close to their location. Firms offering remote work have few permanent plans in place for an official return to office dates, and attorneys are reporting that they enjoy this flexibility. This may be a lasting change in the post-pandemic legal world.

Law firms that can identify when it is time to grow, and choose the right people when that time comes, are better positioned to handle new clients and the growth that comes with industry changes. Several factors can indicate the need to grow. From the inability to take on new work to the inability to get back-office work done, there are a variety of indicators that show a firm may need to hire new associates.

Turning Down New Clients

A key factor in indicating it is time to grow is when a firm is turning down new clients. The only way for a firm to grow is with new work, and if the firm cannot handle any new accounts, then it means they need more people to handle the workload. With new associates on board, the firm can continue to grow and bring on new, lucrative client accounts.

Failure to Meet Client Needs

Good customer service is the hallmark of a successful law firm, but this is one area where many businesses suffer when they have insufficient staff. If the firm is not meeting the needs of its clients then it may mean they need to hire new associates. Every client needs exceptional treatment, prompt responses to phone calls and emails, as well as a positive face-to-face experience, and an understaffed firm cannot provide any of that.

Inability to Handle Paperwork and Back-Office Needs

Legal work comes with a lot of paperwork, and that paperwork must get done efficiently to keep the firm running smoothly. Sometimes understaffed law firms do a good job of meeting the needs of clients, but fail to get the back-end stuff done promptly. This is another indicator that it’s time for firms to consider hiring someone. If the existing associates cannot get the paperwork done, hiring more will help get these important steps accomplished.

Legal Team Nearing Burnout

Finally, if the existing attorneys are working too many hours and starting to feel burnout, hiring new talent can alleviate some of that stress. Working with a Chicago legal recruiter can make it easier for firms to find associates who are a good fit for the firm’s needs and overall culture so they can seamlessly integrate into the team and start working on the caseload to get things moving more efficiently again.

A lawyer’s career path can take many twists and turns, and having clearly defined career goals helps lawyers stay on track to achieve their goals without getting distracted by opportunities that may come their way. Headhunters for lawyers are becoming increasingly common, with more looking to help attorneys fill new roles. When they approach a lawyer with a potential offering, having clear-cut career goals will help the attorney understand if he or she should take the role or keep pushing toward another goal.

Career Planning Prepares Lawyers for Periods of Transition

The legal industry is in a period of transition. When lawyers do not have a career plan in place, they can weather these periods of transition with clear guidance. They know where they want to be and what moves they can make to get themselves there, even when the industry is changing.

Career Planning Creates Accountability

Lawyers who career plan can get some accountability in their goals. They can tell another person their goals or work with headhunters for lawyers to help them keep their goals at the forefront of what they do. Accountability makes it easier to achieve a goal because the individual knows someone is going to ask them about their choices.

Career Planning Drives Job Changes

Lawyers change jobs regularly for a number of reasons. These job changes are sometimes not the lawyer’s choice, but sometimes they are. Either way, having a clear career plan will help the lawyer make the right choices when a job change opportunity or need presents itself. Instead of simply moving from job to job until finding the right fit, lawyers with a career plan can use these job changes as steps on a ladder to help them reach their ultimate goal, whether that is a partnership or private practice.

Career Planning Can Push Lawyers Toward Solo Practice Faster

Many lawyers today strive to launch a solo practice, but without sacrificing their career success. A solid career plan can make that easier to do. Lawyers with career plans can discuss their goals with an attorney recruiter when pursuing new job opportunities to help ensure they are headed in the right direction.

New lawyers who are looking for a position can improve their chances of landing one with a strong writing sample portfolio, yet some common mistakes often trip up these candidates. Legal portfolios can include motions, briefs, and excerpts from pleadings that are in line with the lawyer’s area of practice. Those who are working with a Chicago legal recruiter to find a position can strengthen their appeal as a candidate by checking their legal writing samples for these common errors. By eliminating them, they can improve their chances of finding a job quickly.

Poorly-Written Pieces

Strong writing skills are vital for lawyers. A portfolio that is filled with grammar and word choice errors is going to hurt a candidate’s chances of getting hired. New lawyers who do not feel that they are strong writers can partner with a professional proofreader or editor to double-check their written pieces before putting them in a portfolio and searching for new jobs.

Poor writing can also mean papers with many typos. Having a portfolio of error-free writing will make a candidate shine out from the competition when a Chicago legal recruiter approaches a firm with an option for their next hire.

Samples Not Relating to the Area of Expertise

Lawyers should have portfolios that relate well to their area of work. Someone applying for a role in a law firm that specializes in criminal defense should not add their paper from their senior history class to their portfolio. While it may show their writing style, it is not at all on the topic of the firm’s focus. A lawyer’s portfolio should have samples of legal writing and, if possible, samples that pertain to the particular area of practice the lawyer wishes to work in.

Private or Confidential Information

In the legal world, much of what gets written contains private or confidential information. The names of past clients, specific points of an agreement, or the name of a corporation or other entity can break the client-attorney privilege. Before putting a sample in a portfolio, lawyers can redact sensitive information by blacking it out with a black marker or replacing it with a generic moniker, such as “Corporation A” or “Individual A.” When applying for a new legal position, overlooking this step could quickly derail a candidate’s chances, because firms want to work with attorneys who know how to keep the information confidential.

Today’s law firms are hiring more remote associates as the technology for remote work continues to improve and the shut-downs due to COVID-19 continue to affect the legal industry. Many firms had to figure out ways to make virtual appointments in the aftermath of the shutdowns of 2020, and this is a trend that appears to be sticking. Many attorney recruiter professionals are helping firms hire remote associates as firms continue to offer virtual appointments to their clients.

Virtual Associates Marking a Dramatic Shift in the Legal Industry

Hiring virtual talent demonstrates a major shift in how law firms do business. Now, instead of requiring talent to live in the vicinity and come to the firm’s brick-and-mortar location, firms can add quality talent to their teams without requiring a move. This, in turn, may allow them to recruit better talent in the long run.

Hiring Virtual Associates Allows Firms to Expand into New Markets

One of the reasons many firms are hiring virtual associates is that it allows them to expand into new markets as they focus on growth. Firms can now hire attorneys who are licensed in new states, allowing them to practice in their state while bringing in clients to the firm from those states. As long as virtual law remains a factor in the modern law firm’s makeup, this trend is likely to continue, allowing firms to reach more people through their virtual partners.

Tight Job Market Fueling This Change

Recruiters are indicating that the job market for associates is quite tight. High demand in the aftermath of COVID-19 combined with a candidate shortage is making available positions fill quickly. The option to offer virtual appointments is vital because it allows a new associate or partner to remain in their own geographic location even while joining the firm.

Potential Concerns with Change to Virtual Associates

This shift towards hiring more virtual associates is creating a concern. These virtual associates are not making the connections or receiving the training they would if they were hired traditionally and brought on board in person. Firms hiring virtual associates can work with an attorney recruiter to set up training programs to compensate for this concern.

(Reuters) – Schiff Hardin is stepping into a hot merger market that may put it in competition with other firms feeling pressure to scale up as quickly as possible.

The Chicago-based law firm is on the hunt for a merger partner after seeing its ranks steadily deplete over time, ever since a sizable group broke off to form Riley, Safer, Holmes & Cancila in 2016, said William Sugarman, founder and president of Windy City recruiting firm Astor Professional Search.

“It makes a lot of sense to merge with a firm that can provide the additional depth and breadth and infrastructure, to get back to where they were prior to [those departures],” Sugarman said.

Industry consultants have reported that the market for significant law firm mergers is heating up again after a pandemic-induced slowdown. Merger activity had reached record levels in recent years, only to plummet when the COVID-19 crisis led firms to tighten belts and kept law firm leaders close to home for much of 2020.

Earlier this month, Holland & Knight and Thompson & Knight announced they were engaged in merger discussions, a potential tie-up that one industry consultant called “the beginning of the next wave.”

The pent-up merger activity is being driven – as it was before the pandemic – by already-sizeable firms that are feeling pressure to add scale as quickly as possible. Growing through lateral partners alone can be costly and time-consuming, and the gap between the largest, richest firms and their smaller counterparts have widened.

Schiff Hardin has seen its revenue drop steadily since 2015, including a 6% decline to $174 million in 2020 as headcount shrank 10% to 211 lawyers, according to The American Lawyer. That is likely to place the firm among the 200 highest-grossing U.S. law firms based on 2020 results, but near the bottom of the pack.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. last spring, most of Schiff Hardin’s attorneys and staffers who made more than $100,000 saw their salaries slashed by 15%, while a smaller portion of attorneys got hit with 50% cuts in pay. The firm also borrowed $5.38 million from the federal government through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Schiff Hardin, which elected a new managing partner in February, declined to comment Friday on its merger aspirations. The firm told The American Lawyer earlier this week that “from time to time we evaluate potential strategic combinations to expand our service offerings to our clients, but we do not comment on rumor or speculation.”

While it’s competing with other firms for a limited pool of potential merger partners, geography may be an advantage for Schiff Hardin, which is still one of its hometown’s best-known firms. Although there has been a steady stream of law firms entering the Chicago market over the past 15 years – in 2020 alone, Dickinson Wright, Venable, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher all opened offices here – Sugarman said he has seen no sign that the city of big shoulders is suddenly full.

“There still seems to be a never-ending appetite for expansion in Chicago,” he said.

After the demands of 2020, the 2021 year brings significant challenges to law firms as they decide how to move forward on the tail end of the pandemic. From the remaining impacts of COVID-19 to the shift to virtual service and increased demand for the service of a legal recruiter, many firms have had to adjust their business models to address these changes. These are the challenges that law firms face as they move through 2021.

The Challenge of COVID-19

COVID and the challenges it brought to law firms are not yet over. As many as 81 percent of the top firms still report that they feel COVID-19 will prevent them from reaching their financial goals. Things are looking better with the vaccine on the horizon, but the crisis is far from over.

One of the best ways to overcome this 2021 challenge is with technology. Virtual interviews with a legal recruiter can help with the hiring process, and virtual meetings with clients can reduce the risk of virus transmission. Remote work may be the norm for legal work as 2021 progresses.

Change in Consumer Expectations

Legal consumers have changed over 2020, and those changes will follow them into 2021. One of the biggest changes is the demand for cyber services. Since consumers can now do everything from buying groceries to checking their bank accounts online, many are starting to expect legal services in a virtual format as well.

To address this challenge, firms can consider adding app-based services, virtual client meetings, and other technology-based approaches, where appropriate to meet the changing expectations of their clients.

Need to Bring on More Talent

As a firm adapts to the changes brought on by 2020, many find that they need to add additional talent. Yet few networking events will take place as the pandemic continues, leaving firms struggling to connect with potential new hires. A legal recruiter is often a great way to add talent and find people who may feel interested in a firm, without undue stress on the existing partners.

There’s no denying that 2021 is going to bring challenges to today’s law firms, but 2020 taught the tenacity needed to push through. As the pandemic becomes more manageable, smart firms will rise to the challenge and continue to grow through the coming year.

Attracting lateral talent in a world that has taken much hiring to the virtual level creates challenges, but today’s law firms are rising to those challenges with virtual interviews, on-boarding, virtual reality tours, and detailed websites that showcase the culture of a firm. Lateral hires remain a good way for many firms to grow. Some are relying more heavily on headhunters for lawyers to help in this process as they figure out lateral hiring in this new virtual world.

Lateral Hiring Still a Main Focus

Though it is still a main focus, lateral hiring is challenging because the hiring firm must make a case for why they are a better fit. Often the decision to make a move comes down to the culture or focus of the firm.

In lateral hires, candidates are typically not looking for a new role or position, and they already have the skills they need to fill the role. Traditional job boards are rarely utilized in this process. Instead, firms may use:

The main goal when seeking lateral talent is to show the culture of the law firm and attract talent that fits. Once the firm finds talent that fits their culture, often through the help of headhunters for lawyers, they can make the move to recruit the attorney and move forward with the hiring process.

How Virtual Hiring Has Changed Lateral Recruitment

The rise in virtual hiring that has taken place due to COVID-19 has created a new focus on lateral hiring. Headhunters for lawyers can no longer meet with clients in person to discuss potential lateral moves. They must actively seek them through professional profiles, like LinkedIn and virtual meet-and-greet opportunities.

With the virtual recruitment process, it’s not uncommon for interviews to take place primarily through digital means. Interviews and on-boarding are now handled virtually. Some firms are even incorporating VR experiences to show potential hires what their firm has to offer.

Finally, this shift has made the role of headhunters for lawyers or recruitment firms even more important. Because law firms are not meeting potential hires through day-to-day operations, those that have a position to fill can tap the services of a recruitment firm to help.

With lower-than-average unemployment numbers, the economy currently favors job seekers, and firms looking to recruit top legal talent need to take measures to ensure they are attracting the talent they need. The right strategies and the help of an attorney recruiter can improve the recruitment process and make a firm appealing to the best in the industry. By taking hold of these strategies, a firm can position itself to find the right people, even when the market is competitive.

Flexibility Proves an Important Part of Hiring

When a job market is competitive and many firms vie for the same candidates, flexibility is an important trait to have. Firms can push candidates away when they have a long list of requirements that the candidate must have to qualify for the position. For instance, a specific career path is a good requirement to have, but in a competitive market, the firm may want to consider a less strict path to hiring.

Improved Starting Offers

Another factor that can improve the chances of recruiting top talent is the starting offer. A competitive salary is a must, but to entice the right people as an attorney recruiter, firms can also add other features, like hiring bonuses and customizable benefits packages. This makes the firm more appealing to those actively looking for a new position and those who are passively interested in a better role. Great benefits are also an appealing feature and one that helps attorneys stay with a firm due to high job satisfaction. A benefits package then serves as a recruitment tool as well as an incentive for the right people to stay with the firm.

Getting the Word Out

By far one of the biggest challenges of recruiting attorneys is getting the word out about open positions. An attorney recruiter can be a valuable tool in the process as a firm strives to attract good attorneys. Placing job ads may not be enough in a competitive market, because those who are in the market for a job often find the right position before it even hits the job boards. However, posting available jobs on legal job boards, LinkedIn and similar platforms can be part of an overall recruitment strategy along with working with an attorney recruiter.