How to attract and retain lawyers in a competitive legal market
John Hayes, managing partner at Constantine Law, admits that it took some initial learning to arrive at a successful structure and culture conducive to attracting and retaining employees. What are some of the “push” and “pull” factors that influence recruitment and what is the secret to retaining great talent?
I started Constantine Law Employment and Regulatory Solutions seven years ago and we have had, like a lot of startups, a fair few ups and downs along the way. Fortunately, thanks mainly to hiring and retaining some great lawyers as well as wonderful support staff, we have had more successes than failures. We’ve just hired our 16th lawyer and we now have an established legal brand within the employment law and regulatory space. As managing partner, I consider recruitment and retention crucial to our continued growth and stability.
I should say that Constantine Law is a legal consultancy model with a difference. We have a fully staffed/supported structure in terms of associates, assistants, practice managers and press support. Primarily we look to hire and retain partner-consultants on a self-employed (as opposed to LLP) basis. We also employ experienced associate solicitors. Compared to the market as a whole, we have recruited and (crucially) retained our people at a high rate. I believe we have done this by learning from some of the things that we did not get entirely right at the outset.
In terms of recruitment, I think we need to be honest with ourselves as hiring firms. There are always “push” and “pull” factors for lawyers leaving law firms, and both sides of the equation need to be in play to hire a lawyer. In my experience, two types of lawyers will never move: the very happy and the very fearful. Often, I reach out to people, and they say (in terms), “I’m very happy right now and I’ve no interest in moving.” In which case, fine, we move on.
The other type of lawyers are people who will have a conversation with you but ultimately do not have enough confidence in their practice (or following) to make the jump to self-employment or even (presumably) to completing a comprehensive lateral partner questionnaire for a limited liability partnership. Thus, one must first identify a “push” and that lends itself to more personal and empathetic (open) questions about one’s personal journey and what that lawyer wants in their career and their life for the next 5-10 years.
If “the push” is in play, then one gets permission to articulate “the pull”. This is a legal brand’s proposition about “why us?” This must be a reasonably compelling proposition in what is a crowded legal marketplace. For Constantine Law it is clear — we offer total pay transparency (the best commission rates on the market) plus total professional support (press and marketing + practice (and finance) managers + associates and assistants). No other legal consultancy model (to our knowledge) does this to remotely the same level. For our associate team, we offer a freedom of lifestyle and quality of work which is better than at most firms.
We ask the candidate to have a coffee with us and we hope that a conversation develops after which they will join us.
In terms of retention, we’ve had to learn to provide more, as a firm, and to give more away. We are not private equity funded and so we will employ associates and assistants so that partner-consultants have the pyramid of support they need to do their client work. We will provide experienced press support and we will do “press launches” for new joiners. We have weekly dial-ins in which practice development and marketing initiatives are discussed for the betterment of all. We also have twice annual away weekends when all the firm comes together — including our wonderful practice management (PA) team.
For our associate team, it is about promoting a culture of trust (they primarily work from home) and developing high-quality (and varied) work for them so that they are continually learning and developing. We are passionate about professional development and we invest heavily in training. Ultimately, it is about professional autonomy for our associate team as this is what they demand, and this is what we deliver for them.
At Constantine Law, everyone comes together to troubleshoot solutions and to share ideas about taking the firm forward and everyone’s voice is heard. I think that is probably it: everyone’s voice is heard. I am not sure we “got” that when we started (two to three people left in the first couple of years), but I believe we do now and no employment lawyer has left in over four years. Ultimately, retention is about a “bottom-up” view of the legal world. It is about asking the lawyer what they need to be set up for success and delivering the means to make that happen. Once this is achieved, retention takes care of itself.