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Jobs for the boys

Scottish law firms are built around the quality of their people. They sell themselves on the quality of their people and they reap the rewards because of the quality of their people. Therefore identifying the best people to come and work at your firm is vital to long term success. Gordon Laing looks at how important it is to find the right recruitment consultancy for you.

As Scotland’s top law firms look to grow, or even maintain their market share, there is one area that is more important than any other. Recruitment. Like any other business, a legal firm cannot grow without the right employees in place.
But, in an age where a job for life is little more than a myth of bygone days, how do you attract the great, the good and the promising of the legal world to your doorstep?
Furthermore, once they are through the door, as well as excelling, the staff need to gel – and quickly, too. There is no room for trial and error at the appointment stage. So, how do you make sure that the candidates you are talking to are the right ones for the firm?
The pressure is on to get it right.
Dating agencies ¦ sorry, recruitment agencies sell themselves on finding the perfect match between employer and candidate.
For the uninitiated (okay there will be very few, but anyway) here’s roughly how they work: The recruitment consultant will be in constant contact with employers to see if they have any vacancies. When vacancies arise, and the employer wants to use the consultant to fill them, the consultant will search their database for suitable candidates, or place an advert in recruitment media. The recruitment consultant will then filter through the rubbish candidates, and send the potential employer a small selection of the best CVs. The consultant will receive a fee for this. The employer, in theory, will get the best candidate on the market for the job. Bosh!
The value of the recruitment agency is, pretty much, unquestioned now that they have established themselves, especially in legal recruitment, as the norm.
Despite being an expense that some firms begrudge, the agencies can, and often do provide many benefits, according to Wright Johnston McKenzie’s CEO Graham Bell: “A tailored selection of quality CVs is valuable, particularly when time is of the essence. But the recruitment agent’s percentage does seem high with high salary or partnership candidates. A good lawyer is very valuable to a business, however there should be a maximum fee payable – as there are minimum fees – and not necessarily dependant on salary.
“The agents that are trustworthy and build up a rapport with firms over a number of years are more likely to know our needs and what candidates match them.
“Recruitment consultants should only be submitting CVs or applicants who know that we are the recipient; they should be able to provide a prompt supply of initial application forms, prompt and efficient organising of interviews and relatively detailed follow-up with both us, and the candidate.
“Furthermore, a good agency should not need to cold call or make uninvited excessive phone calls.
However, speaking to the head of HR at one of Scotland’s top legal firms, who wished to remain anonymous, it seems that a number of other issues surround the legal recruitment industry: “Agencies do provide a valuable service – but that’s because that is the way that candidates choose to do recruitment.
“Lawyers are the most extreme group when it comes to this. They do not seem willing to reply to adverts directly. It is a small market in Scotland. Could that be the reason? Perhaps it is seen as a confidentiality risk, based on the size of the market?
“It could be that potential applicants are just in a comfort zone provided by the recruitment agencies?
“Any HR team would far rather create their own adverts, and deal internally with the response, but they could advertise this way until they are blue in the face. Applicants like to apply on their own terms.
“Still, too many agencies don’t handle the applicants CVs properly. They don’t question missing info on an applicants CV, or they don’t tell them to condense it when the CV is far too long. They don’t always communicate well with their candidates, which means that we are often presented with candidates that are unsuitable for the role.
“This certainly doesn’t refer to every agency, however it does happen far too frequently.
“We have to go where the market is, but really, in Scotland there are only a handful of agencies that we will use, because that is where the candidates have gone. In other markets the agencies might spend more time trying to understand the businesses, building up relationships. But in Scotland we are very much led by the numbers and quality of candidate.
These days recruitment consultancies are part of the legal fabric. Bruce Westbrook, managing partner of DLA Piper Rudnick’s Edinburgh office said: “Recruitment consultants do provide a useful service. You can view them almost as though you view electricity. Or, for that matter, lawyers – you really can’t operate properly without them, but they can be an expense.
“The agencies that we use work very hard to understand our business. They take the time, resources and money to understand what we are about and what we need.
“I’d rather build up a rapport with a single agency, or a small raft of agencies, than constantly chop and change. I take advice from our HR team, and we have built up relationships with perhaps four or five agencies.
“We maintain a constant relationship with these consultants, keeping them informed as to what’s happening at DLA. We invite them to presentations and conferences – they are like a partner to the firm.
“But legal firms always have the same problems – the one gap that you have to fill, at that time, is always the hardest to fill.
“In saying that, we have recently filled a hole in the corporate department quickly. But the market at present for recruitment is rather neutral – it’s neither great, nor poor.
This last point is one that Graham Bell agrees with, however he maintains that recruitment agencies are not the only way of getting the right employee in: “It is difficult to recruit quality candidates at the more senior level in most disciplines. A variety of recruitment methods are needed (not just using agents) including recommendation from contacts in relevant networks. One of our recent senior level recruits came through a recommendation from a former WJM employee.
But, despite other alternatives that are now being made available, as well as the good-old, traditional black-book approach, it looks like the recruitment agent is here to stay.
So what is it that makes recruitment agencies so attractive – to employees and employers alike? Cleodie Gladstone, director of First People Solutions, said: “From an employer’s point of view – a professional recruitment consultancy will have access to a large variety of candidates, more so than an employer may be able to source through running an advert – also, adverts frequently attract all the unhappy and unemployed.
“The response will be quick and efficient and the employer can be safe in the knowledge that the recruitment consultancy has taken the time to get to know the candidate properly to ensure that they are correct for an organisation from a cultural perspective as well as a technical background
“A Legal firm needs to attract the best candidates on the market as they are usually a firms number one asset. Recruiting the wrong candidate can be very expensive.
“Adverts will not truly convey the culture of a company or the aspiration that the candidate will need to have in order to secure the role. An advert has a short lifespan and relies heavily on a candidate finding it.
“It can also be very time consuming as all responses need to be dealt with in a professional manner, and a bad experience can mean a bad name in the market.
“Recruitment agencies are there to work with HR functions to provide staff, allowing HR to concentrate on their management, motivation, training, development and retention of existing staff.

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