Recruitment Remixed: Creative & Emerging Recruitment Solutions for Understaffed Law Firms

10 min read

Solving the legal industry staffing crunch demands creativity. Here are some of the emerging new ways law firms are filling gaps in their departments.

The legal industry is facing a staffing crisis. Long hours, obstacles to career progression, and a mental illness epidemic are taking their toll on law firms’ staffing levels, leaving law firms with fewer lawyers, paralegals, and support staff to tackle a rapidly growing amount of work. A January 2022 report released by the International Bar Association found that 54% of lawyers under age 40 are thinking of leaving their current job within the next five years. That means law firms across the globe will soon need to contend with not only older lawyers retiring, but also younger lawyers leaving – to a different firm, a different area of practice, or an entirely different industry. Paralegals are also in high demand and short supply, with the British Columbia Paralegal Association predicting a continuing labour shortage in the paralegal industry that will last for the next several years. And with few paralegals to fill the gaps, law firms will need to come up with creative solutions.

The legal industry is facing a labour shortage; that much is clear. But as more professionals exit the industry, law firms will need to think beyond super-sized hiring bonuses if they want to find new staff. Here are some of the ways law firms can find and recruit new lawyers and paralegals in an ultra-competitive labour market where the applicants hold the balance of power.

Offer Flexible Working Arrangements for New Hires

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered employees’ life priorities. While rapidly-rising inflation means salary and benefits expectations among potential employees remain high, the emerging crop of young legal talent is also starting to prioritize work-life balance in a way previous generations did not.

According to Thomson Reuters’ November 2021 Stellar Performance survey, young legal industry professionals looking for new work are prioritizing three factors in their career decisions: work-life balance, family obligations, and a later retirement age. 

Young lawyers and paralegals prioritize work-life balance in a way previous generations didn’t; they value their hobbies, and they want the flexibility to enjoy their lives. Young professionals are also more likely to have more parenting responsibilities; more young lawyers are mothers than have been in the past, and young fathers are spending more time involved in their children’s lives. Finally, the Millennial generation’s well-documented financial struggles mean that many young professionals have become resigned to the fact that they’ll be working into their seventies; they’re less willing to work extreme hours in their youth knowing that their retirement may never come.

All of these trends mean that offering flexible working arrangements is one of the best ways your firm can appeal to up-and-coming young lawyers and paralegals – and maybe even poach your competitors’ young talent. Offering new hires the ability to work from home, or the ability to set their own hours, or a position that involves travel could be the deciding factor that nets you the crop of new applicants your firm needs.

If your firm isn’t currently set up with the technology needed for remote working, adopting cloud-based records management software and other remote solutions can help you stay competitive in a tight labour market.

Advertise Your Firm’s Values and Charity Initiatives

While offering competitive compensation remains important, legal professionals are increasingly looking for more out of their jobs than just a salary. The International Bar Association’s January 2022 report found that a law firm’s commitment to corporate social responsibility is one of the key reasons why young employees stay with their current employer. Young lawyers and paralegals want to work for organizations that are committed to improving society, whether that’s through a diversity hiring initiative, a free human rights law clinic for underprivileged clients, or a plan for reducing your organization’s carbon emissions.

If your firm wants to expand its base of new recruits, you’ll want to start advertising your existing charity and social responsibility initiatives. Put a “Corporate Social Responsibility” page on your firm’s website, and on it, publish a list of all of the charities your firm regularly supports. Share photos and employee stories from charity fundraisers your firm has organized. If your potential new hires can see themselves reflected in your firm’s values, they’ll view your firm as a place where they fit in.

Solicit Staff Referrals; Court Your Prospects

Some of the best candidates you’ll find may not know your firm is hiring, or may not be actively looking for new work. While job postings will catch the attention of job seekers, there are other means of finding your next great hire that don’t involve re-posting a job description every 30 days.

One effective inbound hiring strategy is to ask your existing employees for candidate referrals. Employee referrals are faster and more cost-effective than traditional hiring, and they’re more likely to lead to a new hire signing their contract: Internal data from 6 years of Glassdoor’s job interview reviews found that candidates referred by an existing employee are up to 6.6% more likely to accept when offered a job. Moreover, hiring by employee referral is far less expensive than hiring through a recruiter. .

While most law firms are already hiring by staff referral – and offering referral bonuses of up to $5,000 for finding a successful candidate – not all firms are actively promoting referral bonus programs to staff. If your firm has a referral bonus, taking a more active approach to internally promoting that bonus could help you find more staff faster. This could involve adding a line about the referral bonus program as a postscript at the end of internal emails, implementing a referral “leaderboard” that shows which of your staff have referred the most candidates, or even having the occasional “Referral Bonanza”, a time-limited initiative where existing employees compete for door prizes by referring job candidates. During this time-limited period, your firm could offer extra incentives like tickets to an NHL game, an expensive basket of wine, a two-night stay at a nice hotel, or some other kind of experiential benefit on top of the monetary bonus.

No matter how you source your potential new hires, you’ll want to ensure you have a defined process in place for courting your top picks. Nurture your potential employees just as you would potential clients: Stay in touch with them even if they aren’t actively looking for a change right now, and show a genuine interest in their careers and lives.

You wouldn’t stop talking to potential new clients just because “now isn’t a good time”, so stay on your potential new hires’ radar even if they’re currently happy where they are. Like their LinkedIn posts. Chat them up at industry events. See if you can find a hobby in common with them to discuss. By engaging with them on a personal level, you’ll ensure that if they decide in a few months that it’s time for a change, your firm will be the first one they think of.

Implement Creative Solutions to Hiring Barriers

So you’ve come across the perfect candidate. They’re well-educated in the exact areas of expertise you need, they’re a great cultural fit, and their references can’t stop singing their praises. Best of all, they’re enthusiastic and eager to join your team.

There’s just one problem: Your candidate is relocating to take the job, and they can’t find housing within driving distance of your office. They’re getting outbid on houses, on condos, and even on rentals; the housing market is so tight that even highly-paid white-collar professionals can’t find anything vacant, let alone affordable.

That’s the exact situation that Lady Minto / Gulf Islands Hospital on Salt Spring Island, B.C. found itself in earlier this year, when the hospital had 6 or 7 highly-qualified candidates reject employment offers because they couldn’t find affordable housing. The hospital had been operating at capacity for years, with no way to increase capacity without solving the island’s housing shortage.

So the hospital purchased an apartment building and repurposed it to serve as staff housing.

Now, not every organization can afford to buy apartment buildings for their employees. But if your firm can partner with a local hotel, or strike a referral deal with a real estate agent or property management company, you can help facilitate the relocation process for new hires who are moving from out of town to take a job with your firm.

(Or you could digitize your law firm so your staff can work remotely without needing to relocate. Digitization is less expensive and easier to implement than corporate housing, and it enables your team to work from anywhere.)

Can Technology Plug the Gaps?

While there’s no single silver bullet for the legal industry’s staffing shortage, there are a variety of measures firms can take to make themselves more attractive to new hires and start regaining ground in the war for talent. In the interim, firms can unburden overworked staff, reduce time spent per file, and increase productivity by implementing the right kinds of technology.

If your existing team is overburdened with paperwork; automation tools and artificial intelligence software can help. Whether it’s a legal spend analytics platform like Apperio, or an eDiscovery solution like Casepoint, or an AI-powered document automation and records management suite like Appara (that’s us!), emerging legal technologies are making it possible for law firms to run leaner than ever before.

Case in point: RDM Lawyers LLP, of Abbotsford, BC.

In 2021, RDM Lawyers was growing so fast that they couldn’t find enough new hires to take on their burgeoning workload. Even after hiring 40 new employees in 2021, the firm was still short-staffed, and they couldn’t hire enough scanning clerks to manage all of their hardcopy documents. The lawyers and paralegals in the corporate law department were constantly trying to find more hours in the day, and finding more new hires was proving challenging.

After becoming an Appara user, RDM Lawyers’ corporate law department found they could accomplish tasks in ¼ of the time those tasks had previously taken. The department also doubled the number of incorporations they were filing per month.

Recruiting new staff can take time, and if your firm needs an immediate solution to relieve your overburdened team, investing in AI and automation technology can help bridge the gap. Take stock of your firm’s existing processes and procedures, and look for opportunities to automate tasks. Are there certain repetitive tasks your team performs manually that you could delegate to a software program? Can you bring in new software to automate invoicing, client intake, records management, or document creation? Even if you’re still planning to hire new staff, emerging software solutions can still enable your existing team to improve their productivity, streamline their workflows, and relieve stress.

Recruitment in the legal industry is more challenging than ever. With older lawyers retiring, young lawyers and paralegals job-hopping, and middle-aged lawyers transitioning into other careers, law firms are competing for a shrinking talent pool at a time when the demand for legal services is reaching a new peak. If your firm is facing a staffing crunch, finding creative ways of solving it will be vital to ensuring your existing team doesn’t burn out. That could mean making your firm a more attractive place to work by implementing flexwork policies or investing in a new corporate social responsibility initiative. It could mean offering a housing subsidy to new hires or partnering with a property management company to offer staff housing. It could mean leveraging AI-powered automation technology to reduce your existing team’s workload. Most likely, it’ll involve some combination of the above. No matter which tactics you use, one thing is clear: The law industry’s staffing shortage isn’t about to end anytime soon; all firms will need a long-term plan to work around the staffing crunch.

Is your firm facing a staffing shortage? We can help. Contact us today to start your FREE 30-day trial and discover how your team can accomplish more work in less time with Appara.

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