Law school and class rank are the most common objective criteria used when initially selecting associates. Other factors follow, but subjective factors rarely overcome school and class rank.
While the quality of law school and class rank are indicative of certain things about a potential hire, we see higher levels of success among firms that employ “role-specific” hiring criteria aligned with client needs. For example, when hiring an associate for clients with a volume of similar and tightly managed cases, hiring criteria would include an ability to manage multiple priorities and a desire to work in a structured environment that values adherence to procedure.
Alternatively, when hiring for clients with complex issues requiring deep research and creative approaches to each case, firms would consider candidates possessing strong problem-solving and writing skills. Associates with an ability to handle changing priorities and a less structured routine would have a higher value in this type of environment.
Larger firms can employ higher numbers of candidates with the understanding that attrition is inevitable. In these instances, the best available talent is selected based on general criteria such as law school rank, grades, and academic achievements. Continuing this approach requires a certain amount of attrition (few firms can grow at a pace to absorb 100% of new hires).
Small and mid-sized firms hire fewer associates and must achieve better hiring results and lower attrition rates. For example, a twenty-five lawyer firm that hires two associates per year at a 50% attrition rate will have the ability to grow by 20% every five years. Lateral hires are a separate consideration.
We recommend that firms expand their hiring criteria and interviewing process to include suitability for the contemplated role and the ability to address client needs. We also recommend that firms analyze the attributes of their existing successful associates and those who have left for perceived better opportunities to assist in the development of a model associate platform.
Role-specific model associate criteria
Class standing, undergraduate degree, prior work history, potential to meet specific role, the thorough interview process
Successful associate trend analysis
Finally, determining if former associates have been successful in competitor firms will provide an objective indication if a firm’s compensation, evaluation, and or developmental processes are competitive.p>
Learn more about hiring and training the right attorneys in the right positions:
Hire the best attorneys. Develop them into successful attorneys. Encourage productivity and retention with compensation and incentives. Repeat. But how can your law firm make this happen?
Recognizing that recruiting successes can provide substantial economic and cultural benefits improves the chances of creating a high-performance firm. Favorable market perceptions of the trajectory of the firm are invaluable.
Every time a successful, growing firm misses out on attracting or keeping a high-performing lawyer, the firm's competitive position in the marketplace is diminished. Attracting and retaining good lawyers requires ongoing attention.