In this issue, we provide a specific example of how IT tools can be used to improve the recruiting process. This case study is a composite, drawn from our experience serving law firms and candid conversations we’ve had with those involved in law firm

Can design firms learn something from the legal community? When it comes to tapping the Internet for recruiting purposes, Jack Ward of Bethesda-based Loki Technologies proves the answer is “Absolutely!”

Hiring managers at firms everywhere are facing the challenge of attracting and retaining qualified candidates to keep their firms competitive. The success of their efforts translates directly into a secure and profitable future for the firm. Today many are realizing that their recruiting efforts merit the same funding, attention and technical assistance allocated to client relations, time and billing, document management and HR systems. In this issue, we provide a specific example of how IT tools can be used to improve the recruiting process. This case study is a composite, drawn from our experience serving law firms and candid conversations we’ve had with those involved in law firm recruiting.

The Recruiting Director for a large east coast firm suffered years of frustration over her firm’s recruiting process. With each passing year, the firm spent more and more money on recruiting, including advertisements, school outreach programs and new media campaigns. Competing with other firms, businesses, and startups, the firm was spending millions per year to reach a
diminishing number of interested, qualified candidates. Finally, this year, she decided it was imperative she implement new procedures and processes to improve the firm’s ability to attract and retain the qualified candidates the firm’s practice demanded. While she thought through the entire process and had ideas about how to improve or redesign each step, she realized she must narrow her goals to improving one small but important part. She focused on the interview process.

Under the existing process, she accepted applications, weeded out the unsuitable ones and scheduled interviews for the most impressive candidates. Last year the list of desirable candidates was smaller than ever. She knew she faced toughcompetition from other organizations in the labor marketplace, including a few Internet startups offering lucrative stock options.

After scheduling an interview, she scrambled to find a partner to conduct it. In a few rare cases, she was able to find a partner who shared similar interests or background with the candidate. In most cases, she simply assigned anyone available the day of the interview.

This led to some memorable mismatches. In one case, a partner practicing in the environmental area was assigned to interview a candidate who expressed an interest in Tech IP law. The partner couldn’t answer many of the questions the candidate asked. The Recruiting Director had learned this after the interview, gleaning specifics from both participants. The candidate got the impression the firm’s IP practice was inconsequential and decided to join one of the firm’s top competitors. The partner who interviewed her wanted no future involvement in interviews.

Though she had made efforts on her own to try to better match partners and candidates, the Recruiting Director knew there must be some way to use technology to find the partner most qualified to conduct an interview. With 200 attorneys in two offices, walking the halls or asking around was not working. She seized on an ambitious idea—automatic matching through a web-based system.

Because most law students use the Internet extensively in their job search efforts, she wanted the new system to accept and process the applicants through a web-based interface. The application required candidates to supply the firm with information about themselves including areas of interest, areas of law, writing samples and leisure activities. The firm maintained all of this information for each partner. She knew she’d need a system that could use these stores of information to match candidates with partners.

When mapping out the matching features of the system she realized that she could also avoid re-keying the candidate’s application from a paper or e-mail document into the new web system. Instead, every piece of that information would now come straight from an applicant, through the web site and into a new web-based recruiting system. The system would use the existing data in the firm’s HR and web site databases to find the best interviewer based on a number of criteria: law school attended; hometown; practice area; hobbies; previous work experience; and other items to be added later. It was a great idea which, unfortunately, cut across many systems and groups of people.

The Recruiting Director knew that the greatest challenge would come from trying to tie together all of these systems and the internal fiefdoms they represented. The web site would have to be changed and configured to solicit and accept data from applicants and then pass it on to the new recruiting system. The intranet would have to be adapted to give her access to all of the information in thesystem about applicant processing. The partners who had never before participated in the recruiting process or had negative experiences would have to be won over.

In spite of these obstacles she pushed on and in a short time the project became a recognized success. In fact, the system served a number of uses other than just matching candidates and partners for interviews. She used the new system to track recruits through the entire hiring process. Because the system was accessible from the firm’s intranet, interviewers were able to use the system to read writing samples and other candidate information before the interview, then take notes and add them to the candidate’s online file after the interview. Others within the firm used the system to view data on applicants, learning more about how many the firm attracted, how many in which practice areas they hired, and in some cases, other firms with whom a candidate interviewed. Everyone was able to access and navigate the system using their desktop web browser. The system used e-mail to alert partners to an upcoming interview and included a basic web-based calendar and scheduling package. Yet the matching processor by itself formed the core and the most important part of the entire system.

Soon attorneys and staff from all areas of the firm began to ask questions about how to expand the system to better serve their needs. Could they add a way to track the new hires’ progress towards the bar exam and licensing? Could they add a place for candidates to converse directly with new hires at the firm—in essence a discussion forum about the firm? Could they add a way for departments or practice areas at the firm to report their staffing needs in advance?

Everyone understands the importance and challenge of recruiting the best and brightest in today’s competitive environment. Web technologies can help meet the challenge, but will not succeed if applied without support. The Recruiting Director did her part. She identified and narrowed the problem to be addressed. She defined a timeframe and a clear budget. She won internal support and sought outside expert assistance. She measured her success. Through all of these steps, she won the respect and admiration of the firm’s management, and thus, the right to direct future efforts to improve the entire recruiting process.