Guest Sandrene “Sandy” Ryan is the senior director of recruiting at Level Legal. She’s built a unique process that focuses on quality and creating “the right match” over putting bodies into slots. Culture fit can be more important than a specific skill. You can teach a skill, but you can’t make the wrong person fit your own culture.
Production is the lynchpin of your firm. Acquiring new clients and ensuring profit are the bookends, but we must produce. To do that, we need to recruit.
Finding the right people for your firm, whether it’s a contract hire or a full-time position is, at its heart, marketing. What’s your story? Do you know how to make your firm attractive to new hires. Do you understand what candidates are selling. It’s a two-way street. Learn how to create a process that makes candidates sign on with you, and also do their best work for you.
A quick match can be more of a time waster than a longer, thoughtful process.
You may be surprised at how the COVID pandemic’s shift to remote working created a wider pool of candidates. If someone doesn’t have to be in your office, you’ve got more to choose from. But it comes with new challenges as well. Nothing stays the same.
Special thanks to our
Intro: Managing your law practice can be challenging. Marketing, time management, attracting clients and all the things besides the cases that you need to do that aren’t billable. Welcome to this edition of The Un-Billable Hour, the law practice advisory podcast. This is where you’ll get the information you need from expert guests and host, Christopher Anderson, here on Legal Talk Network.
Christopher T. Anderson: Welcome to The Un-Billable Hour. I am your host, Christopher Anderson and today’s episode is about production. The specific topic has been one that law firm business owners including myself have really struggled with over the past couple years because it keeps changing and it’s been a really tough nut and that is recruiting. And so, I’m sure you’re pretty glad we’re talking about this topic right about now. That is if you’ll remember, the main triangle of what it is that a law firm business must do, we’ve got to acquire new clients. Otherwise, we don’t have much else to do, right? We have got to produce results that we promised those clients. We call that production. The acquiring of new clients, we call acquisition and production and then achieving the business and professional results for the owners. That’s it. That’s what the law firm business must do and, of course, in the center of that triangle driving it all for better or worse is you.
In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss approaches for candidates and firms both to optimize this matchmaking process that we call recruiting, and I’m really pleased to have our guest today is Sandy Ryan. Sandy is the senior director of recruiting at Level Legal and today’s episode of The Un-Billable Hour is you want to be special. I am pleased to introduce my guest, Sandy Ryan, again, senior director of recruiting at Level Legal. Sandrene or Sandy Ryan describes herself as a natural recruiter. She took kind of a weird route to becoming a professor recruiter. She came from Montserrat which I had to go look up and we could talk about that and got through the United States Army and then became an official recruiter. She’s done this for giant legal tech companies where she systematically implements technology processes and people pretty much on her own to build great recruiting systems and before joining Level Legal where she is now, Sandy was also had a recruiting with KL Discovery and build out a global recruiting experience managing a team of 20 recruiters and supporting hundreds of contract attorneys. So, all that, just to say that Sandy has been there, done that. She knows her stuff. So, Sandy, welcome to the show.
Sandy Ryan: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here, Chris.
Christopher T. Anderson: It’s great to have you. So, my introductions are notoriously pathetic. So, help me out here.
Sandy Ryan: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: How did you — you know, well, let’s just start with this question. What in the world is a natural recruiter? And how did you really like hone that skill to become a professional recruiter?
Sandy Ryan: I would say a natural recruiter is someone with a calling. It’s not a job. It’s truly a calling. It’s the passion to connect with people and also willingness to help them and to be a great servant leader and assisting others to become great and that’s truly what a natural recruiter is, is finding the talent, knowing what they seek and being able to assist them on their path to that.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. I mean, I’ve read in some of the stuff that you do that you actually — I mean, recruiters typically work for the companies that are hiring and, clearly, you’ve done a great job at that, but I read in some of your material that you also make it your mission to help the candidates —
Sandy Ryan: Absolutely.
Christopher T. Anderson: — to become and positioned themselves a little bit better. That’s unusual. Why do you do that?
Sandy Ryan: I have a passion to help. It’s finding ways in which you can help someone. So, as I recruit in high volume, but it’s also keeping it the human level which is part of our mantra which is making legal human, but it’s always been my passion throughout. My career is not just looking at what they can do for the company, but where do they aspire to be. I always tell my attorneys like part of my vetting for what you want, what you’re doing now is also, why did you go to law school? There is a reason why you went to law school. It’s not just to pay the bills which is my real house is contract attorney work, but it’s not where you need to be right now to pay the bills, but what was your why. Why did you go to law school? And making sure that —
— as they’re helping their immediate need for a job, they’re remembering their passion and their why and making sure that they’re also making those steps to get there and if it’s something that I could assist them with, if their passion is a trademark and I have a trademark project on my desk, I want to make sure that I know who to call for the trademark because that’s their passion, that’s their why rather than just putting anyone who can do the job on it.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. So, I’ve often said on this show and elsewhere that in a large sense but, first of all, actually before I get to that, I just got to ask you that. Are you a Simon Sinek fan? Have you read his stuff?
Sandy Ryan: I haven’t but that’s on my — he’s actually on my audio books list to dive into next.
Christopher T. Anderson: Cool because, I mean, you’re speaking his language. I think you’ll really enjoy his stuff because he talks about your why a whole lot. But so when you’re talking about this and like I said before on the show and elsewhere, like recruiting is marketing, right, in a very large sense.
Sandy Ryan: Yes.
Christopher T. Anderson: Instead of marking to the end user, the clients, you are marketing two ways, right? You’re marketing businesses to candidates and your marketing candidates to businesses.
Sandy Ryan: Right.
Christopher T. Anderson: And part of marketing is telling a story, right? Does that match the approach that you think that you’re bringing to the business?
Sandy Ryan: It truly is. You want to be able to make sure it’s a matchmaking process, to be honest.
Christopher T. Anderson: Sure.
Sandy Ryan: And so, you have to make sure that you know what your client seek. So, the client service and the customer service of it is knowing what motivates your customers, what are they seeking and also making sure that it matches what your candidate is seeking because happy candidates produce and we’re in the business of producing. So, you got to make sure everyone is happy.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. I think, I mean, you kind of put your finger on something here because you talked about how you help the candidates as your passion to help the candidates with their why and to tell their story so that you can aim them at the work and the businesses that make —
Sandy Ryan: Motivates them.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, motivate to make more sense for them, but let’s turn that around also. In all your recruiting work, have you found that you’ve had to help the hiring company understand their why and who they’re actually looking for?
Sandy Ryan: Absolutely. We’ve recently had that encounter, yes.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, tell me more about that because, I mean, I find that like a lot of people just say I need a lawyer, I need to hire an associate, I need to hire a paralegal and that’s really just a dipping your toe and I said that’s the tip of the iceberg of what they’re really looking for.
Sandy Ryan: Absolutely.
Christopher T. Anderson: How do you help them decide who they’re really looking for?
Sandy Ryan: You also have to know your client in what motivates them and how they work because I call it buckets. Like, for example, I have some clients who like heavy hours and you have the others that are pretty much nine to five and being able to know your candidates well enough to know what area they can commit to with their other outside things that it might have going on in their lives truly helps you set them up for success. In my recruiting, I know it’s kind of remedial but I call it buckets. You have to have your nine-to-fivers and know who they are and if that person matches what the client is seeking but also knowing their specialties, what their day-to-day work is that they’ll be doing on a daily basis. So, one of the key things I’ve learned over the years is asking the client, not just do I need a paralegal, but truly what are the three main functions this person needs to be able to achieve on a daily basis and ensuring that this person you’re putting in place can not only meet their expectations but possibly exceed that and being able to have that ability to match the skills and also being able to deliver the delight of ensuring that the client is happy with whom you’ve selected to put forward is truly the best.
Christopher T. Anderson: Cool. Yeah, and you described it like I think I described it, you described it, as matchmaking and if we think about it from that context, the right matchmakers really are looking at the true goals of each side because if you stay with the superficial goals, you may make a quick match but one that doesn’t last. All right. So, we talked a little bit about the philosophy. What I’d like to turn to now it’s just let’s turn to current events, right? So, we’ve gone through a really, really weird period in law firm business in the nation’s business and in recruiting, and we went through a time where law offices were shutting down. And then, when they were opening back up, like the word on the street was you couldn’t hire anybody. Like, if you needed a paralegal, if you needed an attorney, there were no candidates.
And so, the law firms and law firm owners got creative, some might say desperate and then the markets continue to shift. So, the lawyers law firms, they struggled. They continue to struggle to find the excellent candidates. Could you talk a little bit about what the marketplace is looking like to you now and what that transition has been about? What’s really been going on?
Sandy Ryan: One of the great things I would say and I could speak to as the contractor e-discovery world is that the transition to remote has been a great for our industry. I would say has been a great blessing being able to not only shift from commutable distance to a location for a brick-and-mortar but truly being able to dive into a wider talent pool nationally or even globally depending on the outfit to source and have great skill candidates at your disposal has been a true blessing in our world. So, I would say there’s been a bit of an oversaturation as well being that you have a wider and more vast pool to source from and being able to having the demand. I think we went through a period of time where it was non-stop were coming in. But now, the streamlining of that work and the more efficiency of knowing and also just the improvement in technology that we utilize and the tools we utilize kind of a little bit of recalibration on the need for volume or high volume. So, I feel the emphasis has been put in shifting to more highly technical rather than just being highly skilled lawyers.
Christopher T. Anderson: Interesting. So, we’re going to reach into that and talk about the need for those technical skills that’s really important. But before, I just want to like just kick a pulse of today. So right now, where we sit today for lawyers, is this a candidate’s market or is this a hirer’s market and employer’s market?
Sandy Ryan: I feel it’s more of a candidate’s market at the moment.
Christopher T. Anderson: Still, yeah.
Sandy Ryan: I feel there’s a shift coming as the job market is changing, of course, but I feel right now it’s still a bit plateaued on candidate’s market at the moment.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. And what is the shift that you see coming? Like do you see it’s shifting more to an employer’s market over the next couple years?
Sandy Ryan: I do. Again, it goes back to what I mentioned earlier with the most substantive skills being sought is truly where I can see that shift coming as well.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay, super. I am talking with Sandy Ryan. She is the senior director of recruiting at Level Legal, and we’ve been talking just a little bit kind of broad pictures of about what being a recruiter is and also just sort of how she sees candidates and the current marketplace. We are going to take a break here and hear from our sponsors. And when we come back, we’re going to shift the conversation a little bit about what Sandy looks for in a candidate and how she helps candidates be the kind of people she’s looking for. But first, a word from our sponsors and then we’ll be back in just a minute.
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And welcome back. We are talking with Sandy Ryan. Sandy, again, is the senior director of recruiting at Level Legal. We’ve been talking about candidates and employers in the market. But now, we’re going to get a little bit more specific. So Sandy, you are the director of recruiting at Level Legal. You’re recruiting all the time. You’re hiring people all the time. What are you looking for in potential candidates? Like, what makes people stand out to you and say, yeah, this might be a good match for us. But if you don’t mind, just talk a little bit more broadly like what should our listeners be looking for in candidates, generally?
Sandy Ryan: At Level Legal, we emphasize our cultural values. I do think that looking beyond skills because skills can be taught and look into it’s more of a culture fit is truly the key to success in hiring the right person for the role is for us, give a damn, show respect, get it done right and deliver delight. These are things we’ve met towards. These are also our cultural values for Level Legal. So, and when I have a conversation with a candidate, I don’t like to interview. I know it started in this industry to like ask questions, but one of the things I learned that has been successful for me is have a conversation. People tend to relax and talk to you and you get a lot more out of them in a conversation than you would in just asking a question that they already prepared for with answers.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Sandy Ryan: So, I like to have conversations and, in that way, you could find out more about the person and the practices and what drives and motivates them and what they’re passionate about. And in that way, you are able to ask the question but in a different way that would give you a lot more color to them than it would just having, hey, can you do this job, what are your skills. But you want to truly vet the candidate, but also do it in a way that makes them want to provide you more than a bit of oversharing also.
Christopher T. Anderson: Sure.
Sandy Ryan: That’s my way of helping is not really over sharing but truly providing you more color to what moves them and what they’re passionate about and truly that helps to find if that person is truly fit to not just the role but to the company and already the team that they might be joining as well.
Christopher T. Anderson: You know what? I think I’m also hearing that. What really jumped out at me about your answer is that you go into the conversation clear in your mind about the values that your business represents and you’re looking for candidates that will work well in that environment that will match those values, not be offended by those values, not be intimidated by those values, which if you’re confident that that leads to you being able to have that more relaxed conversation than look for those buoys rather than being driven by some sort of interviews scripted. Am I hearing that, right?
Sandy Ryan: Absolutely. Skills can be taught, but your willingness to uphold those values and practice, those are willingness to do the job period is inherent. So, being able to vet for their willingness to show up every day and do the job and get it done right is truly what you need to seek in someone rather than do they have the skills. You could teach them the skills any day.
Christopher T. Anderson: Sure. That makes sense. So, let me ask you the flip side of that question then. If that’s what you’re looking for, if you’re looking for value match and without the answer being just like not value match, what are some red flags? Like, in this recruiting, I’m sure you hit upon people where you like, no, no, no, without naming names. If you want to, that’d be cool. But without naming names, like what are some of the red flags that you might run into? Like, you’re like, no, this is a candidate is not for our business.
Sandy Ryan: Well, you have some people that are very honest, and by then, they are relaxed and they’re talking to you and you’re hearing things like, well, I just want to just people to get out of my way and just let me do my job and, you know, so those are — if you’re looking for someone to join a team, you’re not looking for someone who’s just going to run point all the time, but someone who can also be a part of the team. So, if you’re hearing the conversation where they’re saying that they preferred to work alone, that’s not a team player. So, those are like red flags in how they answer and what their personal preference are. You know, we also utilize a culture index survey to also help us to vet for that as well which is also very insightful, but it’s used as a cooperative tool to help to find the right person as well. So, these are different tools that helps us to make sure that we are finding the right person that can show up and be a part of the team.
Christopher T. Anderson: And do the job, yeah.
Sandy Ryan: And do the job.
Christopher T. Anderson: That’s beautiful. Thank you. That I think is absolutely a great example of something that shows an incompatibility. I want to shift a little bit now. In your writing —
— and you focused a lot on — and you even mentioned at the beginning of the show that specialization and the other thing you mentioned that like the market shifting and work specialization or technical skills are going to become more important. First of all, what do you mean by specialization? Let’s start there. So, we’re on the clear definitional plane. What are you talking about when you say specialization can become important?
Sandy Ryan: Specialization can come in different ways. I could speak again towards e-discovery a bit more. With the transition to remote the emphasis on technical and the technical background and practices has become more in the forefront of how we work and what we seek in a candidate more so than if they could actually show up at a brick of mortar place and be there. So, specialization goes towards being more getting certifications in platforms. We’re seeing a lot more demand or request for people to be specialized in the e-discovery tools that they’re using, also being able to be certified in even Microsoft 360. There’s so many other demands that are coming in on the technical side. So, having the certifications or being able to have your resume speak towards the volume that you’ve done for say, a document reviewer being able to say, okay, I have specialty or extensive experience with you seeing a perv log at the base, but more so saying you went out and got your RCA and relativity or your brain space certification. Those are specialties that can make you stand out. And again, this goes back to earlier — there is an oversaturation of the market, especially now that we have a more national scope that we are diving into. So, you want to find ways to elevate yourself above the others where you are more attractive to the law firms. So, let’s say you’re hiring and that’s where specialization in areas and being able to be a subject matter expert in certain areas. It’s definitely something that’s helpful and not only to the law firms but also to the recruiters as well as internally. That’s what you seek in someone to assist.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, let’s put that better. What words would you have for our listeners who are looking for candidates in how they should think about specialization? Should the employers be more in tuned or attuned to the specializations that suit their business the way it exists right now?
Sandy Ryan: I would say right now, but also look at where you’re going and seeking candidates that could be multifaceted. One of the key things that I saw just this morning is that there’s a law firm that made a recent big chop to realign their practices, and I feel that with the more realignments that are coming in our industry for someone who is on the chopping block, it may mean that you need to maybe think about going back and get in specialized or certification in certain areas to make yourself a little bit more attractive to your next hiring partner. It also means that the chops on the realignments that are happening being more multifaceted may be something that a key that could help you be retainable to the company because you can wear more than one hat —
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Sandy Ryan: — whether it’s being, you know. As they streamlined things, everyone is looking to do more with less. So, being able to be multifaceted in your abilities within your work or that your job can and does help you to maybe be more attractive for them to hold on to you. So, you’re helping more than one way.
Christopher T. Anderson: That makes total sense. So, we talked about specialization in a kind of broad sense. When we come back from this break, if we’re going to encourage people to specialize, what should they be specializing in? But first, we’ll hear a word from our sponsors and then we’ll tackle that topic.
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And welcome back. We’ve been talking with Sandy Ryan. Sandy is the senior director of recruiting at Level Legal. So, I said that when we came back Sandy, I wanted to ask you, okay? So, specialization is good from both sides and the employee, the candidate, should be achieving some level of specialization and I guess more importantly the way you’ve been describing is also presenting themselves with that specialization. I’m not talking in generalities but talking specifics about the kind of work they like to do, the kind of work that they’re good at. But so, as people consider specialization, which should they be specializing in? What’s going to be hot? What is hot? What’s going to be hot over the next couple of years that if they’re going to go get a certification, which they be getting it in? If they’re going to be taking a course, which should they take?
Sandy Ryan: Let me just say, recently, I had a former candidate of mine that reached out to me. They were seeking some advice on where to go and they have been to e-discovery. They’ve done the management. They’ve done the backend. They’ve had their own practice and she’s looking for her next step or next second mountain as we will call it in her career, and we were talking about cyber security and, of course, as a recruiter, of course, I’ll say no, stay in e-discovery. I love to have you. She’s a great talent, hands down, but I had to also think of her and what she’s seeking in her life. So, we sat down and we started talking, and she is interested in getting into cyber security, but she doesn’t know how. So, I put my thinking cap on and did a little bit of research to help her in that and, definitely, I was blown away as, yes, I’m aware of all the cyber breaches that’s been happening recently, but to see that there’s such a high volume of demand that’s out there. There’re so many Fortune 500 companies that are currently seeking cyber security help and being able to see like 350% between 2013 to 2021, that’s how much the growth of cybersecurity.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, wow!
Sandy Ryan: There’s over 700,000 open positions right now cyber security. And again, I’m going back to my office saturation of e-discovery. So, of course, I wholeheartedly, yes, go for it because I see it dovetail of cyber and e-discovery, and there’s a lot of talent here in e-discovery that is definitely looking for the second mountain and looking for a challenge and I do feel that cybersecurity offerings and definitely a great way especially for my world of contractors that are looking for a stable jobs and there’s quite a lot of them out there for them to take advantage of and the ability for them to take all the knowledge they have in the e-discovery realm in kind of have a hybrid role of e-discovery into cyber.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. So, speaking of that, like I wanted to pitch you a little bit of a curveball here. One of the things that you do at Level Legal is you provide contract attorneys and contract work to law firms, and these are the same law firms I’ve talked about they’re struggling with recruiting and startling finding talent. Are we moving towards a model where more and more legal work is going to be done through outside contractors as opposed to hiring people permanently? Are we going towards a legal gig economy? Like what’s your vision on that?
Sandy Ryan: Well, honestly, I would say that the partnership between contract law firms and contractor utilizing contractors has been there my entire career, and I feel that that’s always a supplement that is necessary. In my experience, I have seen that they lean towards more contractors especially in an economic downturn to supplement the workload, but I feel that’s always a shift that goes back and forth. So, I don’t think there will be a permanent shift to just using contractors, but it’s always a flux and it’s also a stable way to have attorneys at demand.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. As you talked about specialization, I mean, —
— sometimes, particular people that get specialized skills law firms don’t need them all the time, right? They need them to scale to a project. And then, they need to rapidly scale the back. So, they’re not carrying this highly specialized individual when the specialized workis not available. Is that part of what you’re seeing going on?
Sandy Ryan: Absolutely, yes. That has always been the partnership of contract work with law firms is the ability to grab some extra help when necessary, especially when you need someone with a specialty in the background and that’s what we are here to do at all times.
Christopher T. Anderson: That makes total sense. So, Sandy as we approach the time that we’ve got allotted for our conversation, what would you say from the perspective of recruiting that you think of as a key takeaway like our listeners to come away with whether they’re attorneys or law firm owners? What should they take away from our conversation that’s actionable for them?
Sandy Ryan: I would say look towards where you want to be not now as far as the pressing matter now but where your department is going and ensure that any talent you’re bringing on can help you get there.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. So, the Wayne Gretzky thing, right? So, hire where the puck is going.
Sandy Ryan: Yes. I like that but I’m a Bruins fan, but yes.
Christopher T. Anderson: Well, there’s always room for improvements. Sandy, thank you so much. Unfortunately, that does wrap up this edition of The Un-Billable Hour. So, I thank all of our listeners for listening. Our guest today has been Sandy Ryan. Sandy is once again the senior director of recruiting at Level Legal. Sandy, if folks want to reach out to you, learn a little bit more, have a follow-up question from what they’ve heard on the show, how can people reach you?
Sandy Ryan: They can reach me on my LinkedIn at Sandrene Ryan or they can reach out to me at [email protected].
Christopher T. Anderson: Beautiful. Thank you. And, of course, this is Christopher T. Anderson and I look forward to seeing you through the interwebs. Next month with another great guest as we learn more about topics that help us build the law firm business that works for you.
Remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or at iTunes. Thank you for joining us. We will speak again soon.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer. Thanks for listening to The Un-Billable Hour, the law practice advisory podcast. Join us again for the next edition right here with Legal Talk Network.