From the Great Resignation to candidate ghosting, most of the trends in the hiring market seem designed to give legal managers sleepless nights. The good news is that for every problem like chronic understaffing and flatlining employee engagement, there’s a solution that will help you secure the talent you need. In this podcast, we’ll discuss the seven biggest challenges facing hiring managers in the legal field today and provide some tried-and-trusted remedies to help you overcome them.
Intro: Welcome to The Legal Report from Robert Half, where industry leading experts discuss current hiring and practice management issues impacting the legal profession. Robert Half is a premier provider of talent solutions for the legal field. The Legal Report from Robert Half is here on the Legal Talk Network.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Hello everyone, and welcome. I’m Jamy Sullivan, executive director of the Legal Practice Group for Robert Half and the host of our program. With me today is Michael Lusby, a district president of our company’s Legal Practice Group where he oversees talent solutions, recruiting and business development for our West and Southwest operations. He’s been with Robert Half since 2008 and is well versed in hiring and career trends affecting the legal field.
Michael, welcome. I’m delighted you could join us today.
Michael Lusby: Thank you, Jamy for inviting me. It’s so great to be here.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Wonderful. And today Michael and I are discussing seven of the toughest challenges facing legal hiring managers today. From employee disengagement and candidate ghosting to high quit rates and chronic understaffing. If that sounds stress-inducing, rest assured that our main focus will be on solutions not problems. We’ll provide you with a range of insider tips to help you attract top candidates, retain your most valuable players and strike the right balance between your business trends and the growing expectations of employees in areas like flexible schedules and work-life balance.
Michael, let’s start by talking about employee engagement which is so fundamental to a healthy organizational culture. Many Legal organizations have reported a downturn in employee engagement during or since the pandemic. What can they do to address this?
Michael Lusby: Thanks, Jamy. This is an extremely important trend to address. Whether it’s strong or weak, employee engagement is a byproduct of your organizational culture. When employees are proud of their law firm or legal department and believe in its mission, that drives positive engagement. If individuals lose sight of those things, which can happen in a very literal sense. When people work remotely, their enthusiasm can take a nose dive.
The pandemic also left people juggling multiple priorities as never seen before. For example, many hard driving legal professionals became caregivers and homeschoolers overnight. You can’t assume that people will automatically re-engage. You need to take the initiative.
Another way to improve engagement is to invest in mentorship and reverse mentorship programs. Give employees the opportunity to build relationships and learn from each other so that the value they get from work isn’t just defined by their job description and day-to-day duties. This is particularly valuable for hybrid or remote employees who might otherwise feel isolated or disconnected.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Really great points there, Michael. And of course, it’s also important for managers and recruiters to feel engaged and energized, which brings us to the next challenge. Candidate ghosting. It can be so demoralizing when you put a lot of effort into wooing a candidate and they just vanish into thin air. So, do you have any ghost busting tips that you can share for us?
Michael Lusby: Ghost busting. In any walk of life, it’s easy to get upset and frustrated when someone snubs you in this way, but there are several other factors to consider here. First, if a candidate is disrespectful enough to simply vanish, they probably would’ve been a bad hire. That’s not someone you want to put in front of any of your clients. In that sense, someone who ghost you may actually be doing you a favor. They filter themselves out of contention based on poor interpersonal skills or just outright lack of good manners. But you also need to look in the mirror and assess your recruiting process. Don’t assume the candidate got a better offer and decided that you weren’t worth contacting. Perhaps they simply got frustrated waiting on your team to acknowledge emails, respond to queries, or scheduling of interviews. This isn’t just anecdotal.
Our research shows more than half of employers have missed out on new hires for reasons like not allowing enough schedule flexibility or taking too long to make an offer.
Faster, more efficient hiring won’t eliminate ghosting but it should reduce it. This is a fiercely competitive hiring market and even candidates who are too polite to ghost won’t wain around if they feel you are dragging your heels.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: That’s great intel on the current landscape and this phenomenon of ghosting. So, now let’s turn to talk about another common complaint that we hear from recruiters these days which is that everyone wants to work remotely. So, Michael, do you think that’s a true statement? And if so, is it a bad thing?
Michael Lusby: I know it can be extremely frustrating for recruiters trying to fill in-office roles but I think we need to question the idea that everyone wants to work remotely. Sure, there are people who got used to working from home during the pandemic. They were able to maintain or increase their productivity, achieved a healthy work-life balance and so on. So long as there are remote positions available, it’s probably unrealistic to expect these people to return to the office, but that doesn’t describe all active or passive Legal job seekers. There are other candidates who would be happy to return to the office so long as it’s the right office. One that’s been designed to meet their needs. For example, our research has found that those commuting to the office are more productive in a private space than in a collaborative one by a factor of three to one.
Redesigning your office space to make it more worker friendly probably isn’t a huge investment. Promote your redesign and employee-centric philosophy through your social media channels and job posts so candidates know you try to meet their needs and expectations.
Another problem with the everyone wants to work remotely mindset is that, it can lead to an unconscious bias against people who benefit from remote working in ways that aren’t just about skipping their commute. Working parents, for example, or people with caregiving responsibilities.
In the current hiring market, you shouldn’t be discounting these talent pools even if your preference is for more people to be in the office most of the time.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: I know that my fur babies would not want me to be back to work 100% of the time. So, great points though and great advice Michael. If an employee is going to add a lot of value to your organization, it really does make sense to offer that flexible option if possible, to get them on board. Now, of course, if you do recruit a remote person or a hybrid worker, you know, that just presents all new challenges that we all know too well. So, what are some of those additional tips when you’re onboarding employees in a hybrid environment?
Michael Lusby: It’s a great question, Jamy. It’s very challenging for new hires to navigate an unfamiliar office and work culture, even if they’re going to be on site five days a week. Those challenges are amplified for hybrid workers who will alternate between office and home potentially creating a longer onboarding runway. In these circumstances, you need to plan for a smooth and productive onboarding experience. If the hybrid employee will spend three days per week in the office, it makes sense that those three days are their first three days on the job so that they can get a lay of the land. Meet peers, meet others and have face time with as many colleagues as possible. If that’s not possible, or if the employee will be full-time remote, set up a schedule or virtual meet and greets for the first couple of days and make sure that the hire has all the equipment necessary and resources so that they can start contributing from day one.
Check in with new hybrid and remote employees more frequently than you would in an office space hires. Also consider setting up a buddy system where you pair new hires with hybrid or remote employees with a similar onboarding experience. These more seasoned workers can offer peer-to-peer tips, advice, bring comfort in some instances and make sure new hires are invited to any social gatherings that are either in person or virtual. Finally, make sure hybrid and remote hires have the access to all the training that they need that may require you to review your current resources and training processes to make sure that they are optimized for virtual learning experience.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: And as you and I know our own company has experienced the same challenges and sought out many of these tactics and solutions that you just spoke to Michael.
You can’t overestimate the value of an onboarding process that’s tailored to each employee’s needs, particularly in today’s hybrid work environments. We have a lot more to discuss. But first, a quick break.
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Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Welcome back to The Legal Report from Robert Half. I’m pleased to have Michael Lusby, a district president with Robert Half’s Legal Practice joining me today. Before the break, Michael and I were running through some of the biggest challenges facing legal hiring managers today. At first glance, the next roadblock we’re going to discuss may see more like a brick wall.
So, Michael, what can you do when you want to hire but your organization can’t compete on salary?
Michael Lusby: Thanks, Jamy. And this has been an ongoing question especially the past two years. Just a big issue all around for all organizations. Research for Robert Half’s 2023 Salary Guide found that salaries for lawyers, paralegals, and other legal specialists just continue to increase. Several factors are driving this.
First, of course, inflation. Second, the continued high quit rate and the scarcity of skilled talent, demand is just outpacing the supply. Third, there are several factors specific to the legal field. To navigate this competitive market, small and mid-size firms are recruiting talented individuals from corporate legal departments. And in response, in-house legal teams are providing raises, bonuses, being more creative to existing staff to make it harder for others, smaller, large law firms to lure them away. This competition is great for job seekers. It truly has been a candidate market the past two plus years, but organizations with more conservative budgets may feel like they are priced out of the talent market.
If you can’t compete on salary, organizations have become more creative. Companies need to offer other incentives such as enhanced perks and benefits, flexible work schedules. Quick example, gym memberships. Yoga classes during the day. Whatever that enhancement may look like or that incentive to draw top talent is what other organizations are doing.
Candidates are receptive to these types of offerings, specifically ones that facilitate a healthy work-life balance. 44% of legal hiring managers told Robert Half that inflated workloads and burnout make it hard to retain top talent. The positive side to this is that 76% of legal hiring managers said that offering remote options helps them hire strong candidates. But across all industries, more than 8 in 10 companies have added new perks in response to this challenging hiring market, including mental health resources and wellness programs.
Of course, money still talks but there are also creative ways to get into employee’s pockets without blowing up your payroll budget. One is to offer sign on bonuses and upfront investment rather than a reoccurring one. Another is to offer to pay off a portion of law school loans.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: Now, as a law school graduate, that last one really resonates with me. The fact is, though, however, even more profitable firms can struggle to maintain their headcount in the current environment. So, Michael, what can you do if your caseloads are continuing to rise and you’re chronically understaff?
Michael Lusby: Rising caseloads is great news from a business perspective, but they can put excessive pressure on your frontline staff. This leads to a vicious cycle. More work means longer hours for your employees potentially causing stress and burnout which in turn leads to a higher attrition and turnover rate.
This is truly something that’s unsustainable. So, what’s the solution, Jamy? What do organizations need to do from here? If an organization is struggling to bring on permanent staff, the one thing that Legal organizations are doing more and more is bringing on contract professionals to handle day-to-day tasks, which can save costs and free up permanent staff. A Robert Half Survey found that 48% of hiring managers plan to use more contract professionals in 2023.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: That’s a great point, Michael. And of course, there are advantages of using contract hires. It goes well beyond, easing pressure and making that budget stretch farther. Contract lawyers also help firms to quickly diversify their legal services and really advance into many different fields.
As for contractors, lawyers who have done project basis work have told us that this arrangement really helps them achieve a better work-life balance and a greater variety of work.
So, we have reached our seventh and our final hiring manager challenge. And this is something that can cause so many headaches for legal employers and namely when employees are going to resign and leave knowledge gaps in their wake. So, what are some proven strategies to combat this trend, Michael?
Michael Lusby: It sounds obvious, but the simplest and most effective way to stem the tide of resignation is to raise salaries to match or exceed what competitors are offering. Despite overall salary growth in the US, a survey conducted by Robert Half Research found that more than 55% of professionals in all sectors still feel underpaid. What’s more, 4 out of 10 workers would consider changing employers for a 10% salary bump. So, if legal organizations want to retain top talent, they too need to be more proactive about raises rather than seeing them as a last resort. Then there’s a professional development.
Employees are always seeking more opportunity to learn. They’re likely to stick around if they feel like the organization wants to invest in them and their future. Make time and resources available for certification, continuing legal education so people can achieve their career goals without leaving the firm.
Upskilling and reskilling don’t just keep people engaged and loyal. They also help you fill knowledge and skill gaps when you do have a high turnover rate. You can’t promote everyone who wants to be promoted, but you can use the training to support people who want to make lateral moves. For example, another way to keep people engaged and promote knowledge transfer is a cross-functional assignments where employees collaborate on a project with people from other departments. Embracing flexibility also helps.
No wonder quit rates are so high when post pandemic Robert Half Research found that 34% of workers who were surveyed would rather resign than return to the office. In-person meetings have always been important in the legal sector, but employees will react positively if you consider their needs alongside the needs of your business and clients.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: These are very great points on a flexible workforce option and different retention strategies. So thank you for that, Michael. And one tip that I would add is to review your recognition and bonus programs and make sure that they are equitable. Hybrid and remote employees may be out of sight but they should not be out of mind when it comes to being rewarded for outstanding performances. If your recognition program doesn’t give everyone the chance to max out on their bonus, you probably need to look at redesigning it for the post pandemic world.
Michael, you have provided excellent points and insights today, but unfortunately, we have reached the end of our program. Special thanks again to Michael Lusby for joining me today and sharing these valuable tips with all of our listeners. And before we close, how can our audience contact you and where can they obtain some more information?
Michael Lusby: Thanks, Jamy. It’s been absolute pleasure. I appreciate getting the invite to our conversation. Best contact information, Michael Lusby. Email address is [email protected].
But again, Jamy, thank you so very much for your time this morning.
Jamy J. Sullivan, JD: My pleasure, Michael. It’s been great to have you. And our listeners can reach me at [email protected]. Thanks to our audience for listening today. If you liked what you heard, please rate us in your favorite podcasting app and follow Robert Half and the Legal Talk Network on Twitter and Facebook. And please visit roberthalf.com for more information and resources, including our latest salary guide and demand for skilled talent research.
Join us again for the next edition of The Legal Report from Robert Half here on the Legal Talk Network as we discuss important trends impacting the legal field and legal careers. Until next time, be well.
Female: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Robert Half, Legal Talk Network or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
Outro: Thanks for listening to this podcast. Robert Half is a premier provider of Talent Solutions for the legal field. Robert Half is an equal opportunity employer, including minorities, females, people with disabilities and veterans. Robert Half is not a law firm and does not provide legal representation. Robert Half project attorneys do not constitute a law firm among themselves.