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Law firms sharpen recruiting

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/07/01 16:15

With a demand growing at 10 percent a year, law firms struggle to find enough qualified young candidates to hire. "Old-school firms had people from graduation to grave," said Scott Dewey, director of operations for Kerry's Referrals, a Phoenix-based recruiter. "That doesn't happen very often anymore." James Liepold, executive director of the National Association of Law Placement, said that recruiting "is earlier, faster and more decisive than ever before. Some students could have firm offers within two or three weeks of their initial interviews." advertisement  

More than 1 million attorneys practice law in the United States, according to the American Bar Association; about 14,000 live and practice in Arizona.

Each year, the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona turn out 300-plus fledgling counselors.

Recruiters said that law firms will need to change recruiting tactics to snag them, though.

"This generation expects more personal support, and they expect high levels of responsibility and concurrent responsibility," Dewey said.

Katherine Swenson, a summer associate at Greenberg Traurig, an international firm cited by National Law Journal, suggested that savvy firms spend more time introducing themselves to students.

"You actually have some time in first year that could be used to learn more about different firms, and first year is when you don't really have many chances to meet them," Swenson said.

Ilone DeRemer, assistant dean at ASU's College of Law, said that "firms need to remember the greatest amount of marketing done to law students is through word-of-mouth on campus."

Liepold noted that many firms are updating tactics to reach more students. Most changes center on electronic marketing. Some firms have developed streaming videos about their work and culture, while others offer podcasts about current legal topics.

"Summer programs have become much more substantive," Liepold said. "They're offering more seminars, more writing assistance, and, overall, a more realistic work experience."

Carol Allen, chief recruitment officer for Greenberg Traurig, said that these things are to attract a new breed of law student.

"What they bring to the table is amazing. They have a vast diversity of experience, and they live really interesting and vibrant lives," she said.

"They're (also) not necessarily convinced they will spend all their lives in a law firm."

Today's recruits have the ability to find an unprecedented amount of information about prospective employers, Dewey said, and many firms are posting blogs and other material on the Internet.

Some firms are active on social-networking sites or sponsor events at select law schools.

"It's really the same techniques professional athletic teams use in recruiting," Dewey said.

Ten years ago, Greenberg Traurig began to be more selective about its recruiting, according to Allen. Part of the strategy was to send senior staff, "people who really understand the culture of our firm," to campus-recruiting events.

They also target summer associates, where new hires are typically found, at an earlier stage by instituting a "coast to coast" event that draws up to 500 law students to 20 of the firm's regional offices across the country.

Greenberg Traurig's Phoenix office draws 30 to 50 students for the event, Managing Partner Karl Freeburg said.

"It really sets us apart and gets us in front of the students sooner (than other firms)," he said. "Then, when I get to campus in the fall, I may meet students who attended."

At Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, Bob Henry co-chairs the office's hiring committee. His firm took heed of students' comments and instituted a Reality Program. It pairs summer associates with senior firm members who "give them an overall perspective of what it's really like, especially the quality-of-life concerns."

Henry said the firm also contacts the best candidates as early as possible.

Swenson, a second-year law student at ASU, is spending this summer at Greenberg Traurig.

"I think most students look for a firm with the right practice area and a firm you can fit into," she said.

She attended last year's summer event and was impressed with a video presentation that emphasized the firm's "ideals, values and the combination of attorneys in the firm."

Henry said reinventing recruiting is a never-ending process.

"Firms that don't change their recruiting techniques every couple of years just won't do as well," he said.

Henry also had suggestions for young lawyers sizing up potential employers.

"Walk around the offices," he said. "Check to see if people work with their doors open. Are they smiling when they walk around the office? Do they stop and say hello to people? By and large, you'll get a snapshot of how an office interacts, and that's an important thing to consider."

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