Employer Insights – The changing landscape of law firm recruitment

Craig Sharpe

As part of February’s Career Booster Week, we welcomed Craig Sharpe, an experienced lawyer who now works as a marketing consultant for law firms, who talked about some surprising ways organisations are now using to choose between applicants…

In a very competitive and changed marketplace for legal services, law firms are not just looking for technically good lawyers. Other skills and personality attributes are now almost equally important.

So, what are the attributes law firms are looking for and how are they testing for them?

In today’s legal market, business skills, adaptability, proactivity, teamwork and an ability to understand how clients approach legal issues, which can be different to lawyers, are some of the main things law firms look for in trainee lawyers.

How better to test these types of skills than by using tasks usually seen in TV show The Apprentice? This may seem like a very odd idea but Craig outlined that a major law firm he knows of uses tasks very similar to those chosen by Lord Sugar. Thinking about the tasks given to the applicants in The Apprentice we find that these in fact do test many of the attitudes and capabilities law firms now seek.

Additional points worth noting for students are that other large law firms are increasingly using techniques which also test applicants ability outside of their comfort zones such as video interviews or forms of gamification in recruitment.

Smaller law firm recruitment

As the majority of solicitors in England & Wales, statistically, work in smaller law firms of fewer than ten lawyers, students may well end up applying to and working at a smaller law firm. Whilst the recruitment processes in many of these smaller firms may not be quite a structured or detailed as the larger firms, some of the more progressive smaller firms are also changing their recruitment processes. Craig advised that one of his clients, Darlingtons Solicitors, has historically asked applicants called to interviews to prepare a brief business plan for the firm. This may seem an odd thing to do, so what is the possible reasoning behind this?

In being given the task of jotting down some business plan points for a law firm, the person doing this has to put him or herself in the position if the owners of the law firm. By doing so, this should raise thoughts about what are the strengths of the business, the threats to it and crucially, who are the competition and how we might out compete them. In effect, smaller law firms are seeking employees who are adaptable, proactive and who understand that law is a business as well as a profession and that law firms face competition like never before.

Another feature noticed by Craig in working with clients is that smaller law firms are increasingly recruiting trainees from law students who have previously spent time at the firm. This makes sense on a number of levels. An example of a firm that invariably recruits in this way is Gannons, who are small boutique commercial firm in London.

Resisting change in law firms

A really interesting insight from the talk related to some findings form a report from major legal publisher Lexis Nexis, know as the Bellweather report 2018. This interesting report found that most law firms recognise a fast changing legal market where clients are increasingly seeking to “call the shots” and demanding change from law firms in approach, costing and in other ways. However, the same report found that only about 20% of law firms and lawyers were actively adapting to the new reality.

So, may law firms are still seeking to ignore reality, others are only changing slowly and hoping the traditional profession of the past will magically reappear, and there are some law firms who are embracing the new reality and seeing the benefit of their realistic approach.

Craig suggested to students that when applying to law firms the students should use tools such as the firm’s websites to gain an insight and idea about where each firm seems to sit on the spectrum of ignoring/resisting or embracing the new legal market. By doing so, students will maximise their chances of success when applying.

Thanks Craig! See our information about applications, including assessment centres, selection tests and the interview process, and don’t forget you can book an appointment to discuss your applications in more detail with the Careers team.