Having spent 9 years overseeing an HR function for a large law firm in the Middle East, I know better than most the very considerable pressures that in house recruitment teams are under. When lawyers leave or levels of business activity outstrip current resources, Partners understandably need replacement/new lawyers quickly. As HR teams have been decimated over the years, recruitment functions are invariably stretched to maximum capacity and will typically enlist the help of specialist legal recruiters such as ourselves to assist them with their search. Briefs are then quickly distributed to external recruiters. Briefs are invariably classed as ‘very urgent’ which reflect the pressures being put on in house teams by Partners who worry about how they are going to maintain and develop their fee earning activities at that moment in time.
All of this will be familiar to those who work in recruitment and is nothing new. However, of course we all know that recruitment is never quite as straight forward this. After the urgent requests for candidates go out and recruiters spend days/weeks targeting suitable candidates, low and behold some dynamics may well be changing back in the client law firm. Perhaps the critical need to backfill a position is no longer as critical as client work has started to tail off. Perhaps the firm has subsequently undertaken a strategic review that requires all recruitment to go on hold. Perhaps an internal transfer from another location or Practice is now being considered or perhaps a CV that has come in directly to the firm is now being considered instead.
Once an external search has been instigated, it is clearly impossible for an internal recruitment team to know exactly how it will play out and whether the need will still be present weeks or months later. Esconsed as I am now on the other side of the fence, I can see that there is often little understanding of the enormous effort that goes into any candidate search or indeed recognition that our candidates need to be kept in the loop if there is a changing dynamic. I must confess that I was guilty of this myself and certainly had little time for ongoing dialogue with recruiters. Once a search had been initiated, my primary concern was the flow of suitable CVs and managing the relationships with internal stakeholders. If a recruitment process was subsequently cancelled by the Partners or put on hold, this would usually result in a sigh of relief from the internal recruitment team. The need to fully brief recruiters on what may have happened and why the search is no longer live was often the least of our priorities.
I now recognise that approaching candidates for roles is a lengthy and time consuming process. In effect, you are using a mix of consultancy skills to show how a role might be beneficial for their future career and market knowledge to show the benefits of a move at a particular moment in time. Although many approaches will be unsuccessful, when you finally do manage to get a candidate who is excited about the prospect of the role you have an offer, it becomes extremely challenging to explain what has happened should that role be subsequently withdrawn or put on hold. Understandably, candidates expect to know more about why this has happened or else we ourselves risk losing total credibility in their eyes. This situation is amplified if they have already been for interview and everything seems to be on track.
The fact that recruiters have invested a lot of time in a process which gets aborted is simply the reality of the recruitment business. The issue that some internal recruitment teams need to understand better is the importance of showing decency to those suppliers who they have engaged with for a search. Not for the reason that they will have lost out on a placement but for the reason that candidates have invariably vested their emotions and time in the role the firm was originally advertising.
In the same way that there are good and bad external recruiters, there are many excellent internal recruiters who do appreciate the reputational damage that poorly handled recruitment processes can create both with the recruiter but more importantly with candidates but not all see it this way.
The fact that these candidates are lawyers and potential brand ambassadors can easily be over looked, as can be the fact that they will in turn know many others who they can vent off to if they feel poorly dealt with. First and foremost candidates are people who need to be treated reasonably. They have a right to know a little more than the standard “we have decided to pull the vacancy” if they are to be left with a good impression of the firm. When I refer to internal recruiters showing more “Christmas spirit”, what I really mean is that they should be more giving when it comes to sharing meaningful information that can help recruiters ‘keep the faith’ with candidates when things don’t work out as planned. Recruiters are primarily trying to match suitable individuals for the requirements that firms have. These requirements may at times be transient but the individuals will remain within the legal sector for many years to come and they do remember how well they have been treated by others.
As we approach Christmas, I for one hope that all of us who are involved with legal recruitment recognise that beyond our own interests lie those of the candidates who we have engaged with. The whole match making process is nothing without them. If we recognise and appreciate this, we will all be singing from the same hymn sheet which is especially pertinent at this time of the year!
Chris Lipscomb is a Director at Blue Pencil Legal and the former HR Director of Al Tamimi, the largest regional law firm in the Middle East. Aside from advising clients on suitable candidates for their opportunities, Blue Pencil provides interview skills training and coaching/development for lawyers in the UK and globally.