Is your human resources department an asset or a liability when recruiting lawyers?
HR department responsibilities vary greatly from organization to organization. The first and possibly most crucial step in successful recruitment is to ask about the department’s role in hiring lawyers. Is the HR function adequately staffed and educated to conduct a deep and meaningful legal search for your needs within your geographic market? Can HR have a substantive conversation with highly skilled lawyers?
Some HR departments have the expertise to recruit and to vet referrals from in-house lawyers, or they may have the resources to create, start and execute a legal search. Other HR professionals may lead the initiative to identify a legal search firm, and may contact a trusted firm partner to spearhead that search.
Most human resources departments do not have legal recruiting bench strength or an ongoing need to continually recruit lawyers. If that is the case, is it a wise business decision for HR to become an expert in legal searches? Most often, the answer is probably not. It often makes far more sense to engage an expert in legal search and leverage the relationships of a legal search firm to access the best legal talent.
If an HR department is comfortable and aligned with the general counsel’s decision-making process, your momentum in hiring lawyers will be greatly enhanced. (See related article, “Momentum Matters: Definitive Strategies To Keep Your Recruiting Process on Track.”)
Here are some HR questions to consider before embarking on the process:
· What is your working relationship with the HR function? Does the department have experience recruiting legal professionals and will there be an ongoing need to do so? Perhaps the department is willing and able to create a pipeline of legal professionals.
· Who will screen candidates, a process that includes a focus on cultural fit and qualifications? If HR is screening for legal competencies, does the department have deep and nuanced knowledge of those competencies and how they may be applicable? Take intellectual property as an example. This might involve a lawyer who prepares and prosecutes patents. Or it can mean a lawyer who is focused on trademark, copyright and licensing. These are vastly different roles and competencies. We have seen HR be very effective in screening for cultural fit and offering astute perceptions that assess fit within the department and/or the larger organization.
· What will the interview process look like? Who will conduct the interviews? How many interviewers will there be, and will multiple on-site visits be required? This may depend in part on the level of the position. Are your team members or the interviewers trained in how to organize and conduct an interview? (See related article, “Master the Art of the Interview: Hire the Right Lawyer.”)
· Will interviewers ask common questions of all candidates? How will the interviewers rate or give feedback to you or the HR department? Who will have the final decision in the selection process? Who has to sign off on the legal hire? (It is critical to understand the decision-making process.) (See related article, “Key Stakeholder Buy-in: Don’t Hire Without Seeking It.”)
· Who has the authority, and what are the necessary steps, to make the offer to a candidate? For, we have seen organizations where it is the HR department’s responsibility to determine starting pay, bonus and equity incentives (LTI or stock options). We have also seen organizations where the HR department has been notified once a candidate has accepted the offer. These are two extremes, but they illustrate the range of experiences we have encountered. One is not right; it is a question of understanding the role of HR within your organization.
We have found that the HR department can be a tremendous asset in streamlining processes, offering insights into cultural and department fit, expediting offers and arranging onboarding. Don't underestimate the power of the HR department as an ally and a professional colleague.
Generally speaking, the greatest strength of HR professionals is their ability to identify cultural fit within the department and the organization. They may pick up on where someone is on the spectrum when evaluating ambition, decision-making, flexibility, motivation or discipline and assess how well the candidate may fit the company’s culture. None of these traits is inherently good or bad; it's a question of fit.
The HR department might be able to help with these questions:
· Is there a current position description? If not, what is the process for updating the description?
· How will the position be communicated? Is there an internal hiring or posting process that needs to be completed first? If so, what are the necessary steps? Once the internal communication process has been completed, how will this position be communicated to the external market?
· Is there a budget for a search partner and who will research legal search consultants? Who will be the point of communication with the search firm?
A word of caution: If you are going to work with a search firm, it is critical to engage the firm at the outset of your search before going into the market. It does not benefit the organization or your search firm partner for the HR department to approach the market in a piecemeal way without a formal process. A coordinated, well-conceived effort is the touchstone to a successful search.
In this regard, we have seen scenarios where a company has posted a position, candidates have applied but have not heard from the company, and then a search firm is engaged.
When we speak with these candidates through our own search efforts, they are annoyed and turned off by the company’s lack of communication. Many such candidates decline further interest in the company. Some are lukewarm at best about moving forward with a potential employer who has ignored their expressions of interest in the company. The end result is damage to your reputation (word spreads rapidly in the marketplace), lost opportunity and a much longer path to attracting the right talent.
Whether the legal team or the HR professional interviews first is a question for the organization to answer. We have seen it work both ways. What does become important is that the process is established and followed.
When the process has been narrowed to one or two candidates, the issue becomes: what role does HR play in hiring and/or onboarding the new lawyer?
We have worked with many adept HR departments and have welcomed the opportunity as HR knows salary ranges, midpoints and guidelines for starting base pay, bonuses, benefits, ancillary perks and relocation costs. HR also may know whether there is an equity component to the compensation.
Working with the HR team can be the difference between a smooth and expeditious finish or the emergence of unforeseen obstacles and problems. The finish line is not where you want to encounter issues. Give the HR team a call early in the recruiting process.