The 5-Step Process to Successful Law Firm Hiring
16 minutes to read
Turnover on a law firm team is one of the most expensive challenges facing attorneys today. Employers spend the equivalent of 6 to 9 months of an employee’s salary to find and train a replacement — and the number of team members leaving their organizations is increasing.
In the past few years, a record number of employees have quit or planned to quit their jobs, and that number continues to increase. In the U.S. alone, voluntary attrition increased by almost 800,000 in the past year, while involuntary attrition decreased by almost 400,000 during the same period according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Losing a team member also hurts your company morale, productivity, and even your firm’s overall scalability.
But many law firm owners are asking the wrong question about this phenomenon.
Instead of asking, “How can you prevent your people from leaving?” ask, “How can you make sure you hire right the first time?”
The answer is to optimize your law firm’s hiring process.
Building your dream team involves a mindset shift, a strategic approach, and a commitment to greatness. We know because we’ve done it. Crisp has been named to the Top 100 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in Atlanta eight years in a row, earned the distinction of Top Workplace in Atlanta two years running, and has been recognized on the Inc. 5000 List of Fastest-Growing Private Companies in the U.S. the past six years — notably earning spots in the Top 10% two years in a row.
In response to how this has been accomplished, Crisp Founder & CEO Michael Mogill says, “At the root of any problem is people, and at the root of any solution is people.”
Having a “gut feeling” hiring process will cost your law firm valuable time, money, and morale. But by the time you are through reading this article, you will have a clear, repeatable roadmap to how you can hire your way to the team of your dreams.
- Treat Hiring Like Marketing and Sales
- Define What Great Looks Like
- Structure a Strategic Hiring Funnel
- Craft Winning Job Descriptions
- Reach Your A-Players Where They Are
Treat Hiring Like Marketing and Sales
When crafting your hiring process, you must make a mindset shift. There are two essential things to remember.
The first is that hiring is marketing.
You are both shopping for a new team member and promoting your firm to candidates throughout the entire process. In other words, you are selling a career to potential new team members.
We live in the age of the Great Resignation. Professionals are not settling for less anymore, and neither should your firm. While structuring your hiring process, keep in mind that it’s a two-way street. Your law firm must be a place where people want to work, and you must communicate that to candidates throughout the entire hiring process.
Second, hiring can (and should) be a structured, repeatable process. Every step in the framework of your hiring funnel should have the function of either qualifying or disqualifying potential candidates. That’s why it’s called a hiring “funnel.” The result will narrow down your pool of qualified applicants to a final, obvious choice — the one who is truly best for the role, not just the best option available.
How do you attract the “ideal candidate” that is excited to be a part of your team? You accomplish this by defining what “great” looks like at your firm.
Define What Great Looks Like
“Great” begins with strategically shaping your firm’s culture.
The most defining characteristic of your firm — especially for those who work there — will be its culture. As the leader of your firm, you are in charge of what that is.
Always remember that company culture happens either by default or design. By being intentional about your firm’s culture, you improve the work atmosphere and your team’s productivity, decrease turnover, and attract team members that belong in your firm.
Intentionally establishing your company culture starts with determining your firm’s core values.
Ask yourself these questions to help you identify your core values and the culture-fit factors your firm requires:
- What do you expect from your team?
- What is important to you and the way your law firm runs?
- What do you value?
- What is acceptable/not acceptable in your workplace?
This is 8+ figure advice. Jot down your answers to each of these four questions.
When we answered these questions ourselves, we identified and honed in on seven core values that we expect every team member to abide by.
Crisp’s Core Values:
- Vested in Client Success
- Results Driven, Not Effort Driven
- Solution Focused
- Team First
- Better Than Yesterday
- Take Ownership
We use these seven values to evaluate potential hires as well as current team members. In other words, we live these values — and you must live by and enforce the values you identify for your law firm as well.
“Great” at your firm should align with your core values. Everyone at your firm should embody the firm’s core values and work hard to uphold that standard. This creates the foundation for your firm’s culture.
Be sure to embed your definition of “great” in your hiring funnel. This will attract suitable cultural fits and help filter out piles of “just okay” applicants.
The next step to determining what “great” looks like at your firm is to evaluate your current and past team members. You can break up this process by asking yourself these two questions:
Would you enthusiastically re-hire every single member of your existing team? Why or why not? (Write this down.)
What is the most common reason for departure when someone leaves your law firm? (Write this down.)
If you LET them go, what led to that decision? Consider some possibilities:
- Did they fail to meet expectations?
- Did they know what you expected of them?
- Was there poor communication?
- Was there drama around them and their work?
If they CHOSE to leave, what was the reason? Ask yourself (and honestly answer):
- Were they overwhelmed or did they feel unprepared for the work of their role?
- Did they disagree with the direction of the firm?
- Were they unwilling to change with your organization? (Growing organizations should constantly be changing.)
- Was there drama around them and their work?
Your answer to these questions will help you understand what your law firm needs to thrive and what may kill your business. (P.S. This also helps you audit your current team to help you identify where to make some changes.)
Once you identify what great would look like, how do you find it? How can you ensure you get great when hiring for a new role in your law firm?
The answer is to structure a strategic hiring funnel to attract, qualify, and bring on exactly who you’re looking for — every time.
Structure a Strategic Hiring Funnel
Having a solid hiring pipeline is fundamental to the success of your firm. Its purpose is to filter out the candidates that aren’t aligned with the needs and values of your firm — making your hiring process more effective and less exhausting.
Here is our pipeline:
This pipeline is our proven formula that is the key to our growth as a company. Here’s a breakdown of each step and its purpose in our process:
Step 1: The Job Description
This is your chance to lay it all on the table and highlight your company culture. Do not hold back. Be honest and straightforward about your needs for this role. Remember the questions you asked yourself before? It’s time to put all you’ve learned about your team and your values to work.
See below for more on how to write a winning job description that attracts A-players (not “just okay” candidates).
Step 2: Call the Number
This step gives candidates instructions for what to do next, including how to apply and what to submit. But they must call the number to get those instructions. If they don’t do this very first (very easy) step, that tells us right away they are not detail-oriented, don’t follow instructions, and likely won’t be a good fit for our bigger-picture values.
Step 3: Submit Application
This is your chance to begin getting to know your candidates professionally and personally. Look for keywords in their application that resonate with what you are looking for in a potential candidate.
Just a resume with no personality should not be enough for you. Screening for initial indicators at the application stage will help you gauge if a candidate aligns with your firm’s culture and values — and save you time talking to bad-fit options.
Step 4: Phone Interview
Initially screen candidates with a quick phone interview.
Remember, you are marketing this role. Have a pitch ready for your first encounter with a potential candidate. Give them unique reasons to join your firm.
Balance out the conversation by asking them qualifying questions as well as answering theirs and selling the position. Don’t hesitate to ask them the questions that will raise your red flags.
Here are some questions that we use:
- What is your ideal work-life balance?
- What are your top three priorities in life?
- Are you comfortable with our pay structure (base pay vs. incentive)?
- Why do you want to leave your current role? (Pay close attention to their answer to this question.)
- What is your transition timeline? (Find out whether they can start right away, would need to put in two weeks’ notice, or some other timeline you’ll need to take into account.)
These questions help us understand what a candidate is looking for in a career and a bit about how they operate in a workplace, which helps us determine if they align with the position and our culture.
Step 5: Test Assignment (With a Firm Deadline)
If you don’t do any of what we’ve told you (although we highly recommend that you do), at least do this. Having a candidate complete a test assignment will tell you so much about them, and it will give them a sense of what the role they’re applying for actually entails day to day.
Incorporating a test assignment into our hiring process is a very important step for the following reasons:
- It allows the candidate to see what their tasks and accountabilities with us may look like.
- We get the chance to assess if the candidate’s skills match our requirements.
- If they don’t do the assignment, we immediately know that they are not a good fit.
- The firm 24-hour deadline that we give to complete the test assignment helps us determine how the candidate works under pressure and whether they are solution focused, even with limited information. (Don’t answer too many questions. Send the test assignment and communicate the deadline, then let them work with it.)
This step weeds out a lot of candidates — and we are okay with that. Again, the whole point of a strategic hiring pipeline is to disqualify bad-fit candidates, leaving only the cream of the crop worthy of joining your team.
Step 6: Assessments
We’re talking about the kind of assessments that have no right or wrong answers. The purpose of this hiring step is to understand who a potential candidate is and how they best operate and interact with others.
Here is how each assessment helps us learn about each potential hire:
- Wonderlic: We use this to help us identify candidates with the most potential to become top performers on our team.
- Kolbe: This measures a candidate’s natural way of doing things. It helps us gauge what position in our organization they would more naturally succeed in.
- PRINT: This shows us a candidate’s unconscious motivators and helps us understand why they might thrive in some roles as opposed to others.
You don’t have to use the same assessments we do, but incorporating some kind of strengths assessment is immensely helpful for ensuring you only get best-fit candidates to the final stages of your hiring funnel.
Step 7: Final Interview
You’ve done the groundwork in learning if a candidate is a good fit for the job by this step. Now, the final interview is your opportunity to get to know them in person and close the proverbial deal.
Since previous steps have determined they are qualified for the position and have initial indicators of cultural fit, this conversation typically orients more around deeper questions and dynamic fit. At the end of the interview, ask yourself, “Would I mind being stuck at the airport with this person?”
But remember, you are still marketing your law firm to the candidate at this point. Go the extra mile and provide them with additional assets and information about your law firm, its unique culture, and the opportunities available to your team.
You can create something like this for your law firm to:
- Show that your law firm is a stable company.
- Share your law firm’s mission and history.
- Showcase all that you have accomplished as a firm. Highlight some numbers!
- Demonstrate growth opportunities and differentiating factors as a workplace.
This will equip the candidate with everything they need to make a decision and hopefully keep them excited about joining your firm. Remember, even if they “pass” the final interview for you, you still need to pass for them as well. Make sure it’s mutual.
Step 8: References/Background Check
We ask for references for two reasons. The first is to help us confirm all the information a candidate has provided, and the second helps us gain insight into how successful they were in their previous roles.
We always ask past employers, “Would you enthusiastically re-hire this person?” We suggest you do too.
Step 9: Offer Letter
You and the candidate should be on the same page at this point. At Crisp, we don’t like to send out offer letters we will not get back.
Be clear on compensation and benefits with a candidate before you send them an offer. In steps 1, 4, and 7, be transparent about salary and benefits. If there are opportunities for growth, share that as well. In step 4, ask them what their desired compensation is. Doing this will help you craft the perfect offer and avoid any surprises on either part.
Also, set a deadline for when you expect an offer letter returned. Be assertive and ask the candidate, “If I send you this today, is there any reason I won’t get it back by X time?”
Now that you have seen what a successful hiring funnel looks like and understand how you can effectively screen candidates, be sure to apply all you can to your law firm’s hiring process. Yours will certainly look different than ours. Just make sure that each step does its job to filter out candidates that don’t align with the needs and culture of your firm.
Craft Winning Job Descriptions
The first encounter a potential candidate has with your law firm will be your job posting, so you must tailor it to your exact needs. Leave no room for misconceptions, fluff, or gray areas. Be clear on what you expect from someone in that role and who you are as a firm.
You should never copy and paste job descriptions from other companies, even if you think the position is similar to what you’re looking for. You will be attracting another company’s values — or no values at all.
Your goal is to fill your pipeline with quality candidates that align with your firm’s definition of “great.” How can you achieve this? By crafting a one-of-a-kind job description.
The key is to create a job description unique to your firm and the role you’re seeking. There are three critical ingredients needed to create a job description that works:
Answer the following questions to identify the specific, measurable accountabilities this position will be responsible for. Think about your firm’s pain points and what the perfect candidate must do to create your solution.
Ask yourself these questions:
- In what ways will this role impact your law firm’s overall goals? Consider the big-picture impact this role will have.
- What tasks will this role be responsible for on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis?
- What other departments or team members will the person who fills this role interact with? What will that collaboration accomplish for the law firm?
Next, define the qualities, skills, experience, and qualifications of the person who will most successfully execute those responsibilities. It’s important to balance technical skills and formal education with the “soft skills” and personality traits that make this person a true culture fit for your organization and the role they’ll fill within it.
Be open about how difficult this role can be, and make it clear that the ideal candidate should be excited about doing the things that make it challenging.
- What technical skills or formal expertise does this role require? How much education and work experience do they need, and in what field?
- What aspects of the role might be uncomfortable for some people? Make it clear that the ideal candidate should love doing those things.
- What are the core values of your law firm, and how must the perfect candidate embody those values in this role?
It is not an exceptional job description without an exceptional company behind it. Use this as an opportunity to showcase how unique your law firm is. Talk about your perks and benefits and what working at your firm would be like. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the personality of your law firm’s brand, both externally in your marketing and internally for the people who work there?
- What are the perks and benefits your law firm’s team members can expect to enjoy?
- How will this role contribute to your long-term vision or big-picture mission?
Your job posting has to embody exactly what your law firm is looking for — and how it’s different from every other career out there — to attract the candidates that will make the biggest impact on your organization.
Always remember to never copy and paste a job description from another company. Your firm is unique, and there is no possible way that another company’s job description will help you attract your ideal applicants.
You are not like any other company — and your ideal candidates shouldn’t be like every other job-seeker out there.
Check out some of our job postings to give you an idea of how to structure yours!
Reach Your A-Players Where They Are
Make sure that you leverage platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter. There are pools of prospects awaiting to work at a firm like yours. Add the job posting to your website while showcasing your firm’s culture, expertise, and accomplishments. Never forget you are always selling the role.
Here’s another idea: Your current team is probably full of game changers. They are part of extensive networks of alumni that may be interested in joining your firm. They have friends and colleagues in their industry. Consider starting a referral program at your firm. Your team already has a feel of what it is like to work in your organization. They are an excellent hiring resource to leverage.
Well, there you have it — all five steps you need to successfully hire A-players for your law firm.
If you’re looking to take action on this information immediately, here are some resources you can leverage today to get started on crafting your bullet-proof hiring blueprint:
1. Check out this free on-demand webinar: Take the Guesswork Out of Law Firm Hiring: How to Create a Strategic Law Firm Hiring Funnel That Works. This training will take you even deeper into everything discussed in this article.
2. To take your plan a step further, access The Do-It-Yourself Job Description Builder for Law Firms. This is a step-by-step workbook that will guide you in building your winning job description.
Always remember, your firm is only as good as the people in it. The only way your law firm will grow and reach the next level is by assembling a truly next-level team.
You have all the tools you’ll need to execute an elite hiring funnel to create your law firm’s dream team. Now let’s make it happen — together.
The Crisp Coach program is full of strategies, support, and accountability to develop and enforce your ideal firm culture, hire and retain a team of true A-players, and level up as a leader. Learn from like-minded law firm owners that have taken the plunge and see how much you can transform your law firm — and your life.