Hiring

This is Elie Mystal, coming to you live from Austin, Texas, and the 2012 conference of the National Association of Law Placement. It’s my favorite annual conference, because every year, NALP just gets all the law school career services officers and all the law firm recruiters in a room, and tells them all the trends in legal hiring. We’re not talking about anecdotal evidence or law firm spin. It’s the one time each year we get to look at some hard numbers.

And in case you live under a rock, let me tell that every year since the recession, the numbers get more and more terrible. Looking at some of these statistics is as close as you can come to physically witnessing a dream die a horrible, mangled death.

This year, the numbers are worse than ever! And that’s the good news. NALP’s Executive Director, Jim Leipold, thinks that we’ve probably “hit the bottom” in terms of new associate hiring, with the class of 2011 suffering the absolute nadir of this process. While he doesn’t know if things will get significantly better any time soon, he figures they pretty much can’t get any worse.

Yay!

Does anybody want to hear the bad news?

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While self-anointed law futurists are competing for who can give the best advice on having a practice-from-laptop-sans-office and remain as small as possible (because happiness practicing law is being alone all day in front of a screen), some lawyers are still considering adding a lawyer as an associate, partner, or of counsel.

The question is, how?

Hiring a lawyer can be expensive, and there’s not always an extra chair next to you at Starbucks, so you’ll probably have to put them somewhere with a wall and a desk. Bottom line is that even when you get too busy to handle everything yourself, the cost/benefit analysis of adding another lawyer can be scary. You’re not just talking salary – but also benefits. And what about if that lawyer brings in business, how should they be compensated?

There’s no one way to do this, so here’s some considerations for those that are contemplating adding on…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Practice: Growing”

Like many other Bachelor fans, I devoted approximately 14 hours last night to finding out who Bachelor Ben chose as his future wife. After much soul-searching and a pensive walk through Switzerland, Ben picked Courtney, the model who everyone hated. Indeed, if the boos and glares directed at Courtney during “After The Final Rose” are any indication, America (and maybe Ben) has decided Courtney is a bad fit. Not to mention, all the other Bachelor losers were very open about their hatred for Courtney.

Ben’s path to “true love” is a lesson not just for pathetic women (see, Lindzi, the orange contestant, who missed all the obvious hints that he was not interested and still blabbered on and on about how she found true love before he ditched her), but also for small-firm hiring partners. Here are the top five takeaways….

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... to take a survey.

Yesterday, David Lat took a detailed look at the National Law Journal’s newly released list of “go-to” law schools — the ones placing the highest percentage of their 2011 graduates in Biglaw. Of course congratulations are due to Penn and Northwestern and the other schools whose graduates are still landing associate positions. But the real news is how seriously discouraging the NLJ data is. We all know the legal job market is tough, yet Bruce MacEwen’s observation that 85% of law schools give students a worse than 10% chance of getting a job in Biglaw still manages to startle.

Our ongoing ATL School & Firm Insider Survey (take it here!), asks current law students, among other things, “What do you expect to do after you graduate?” A whopping 71% tell us that they expect to work for a firm. (This percentage was consistent across class years.) That this proportion is so high, and so at odds with the NLJ findings, can mean some combination of two things:

  • The ATL student readership skews heavily toward that minority of students who will actually snag Biglaw gigs.
  • Many (if not most) expectations of law firm employment will be dashed against the reality of a contracting job market. In other words, a majority of students think they are in the fortunate minority

After the jump, we’ll look at how wide the gap between student expectation and market reality is, even at the “go-to” schools:

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Which law school helped her land a fabulous Biglaw job?

The general economy started to turn around last year, but the legal job market remains sluggish. In 2011, many top law schools sent fewer graduates into first-year associate jobs at the nation’s largest 250 law firms than they did in 2010. That’s the bottom-line finding of the National Law Journal’s annual survey of which schools the NLJ 250 firms relied on most heavily when filling first-year associate classes.

The results of the survey should be interesting to current law students and law firm attorneys. And they’re of possible practical import to prospective law students who are now choosing between law schools (or deciding whether to go to law school at all, based on a cost-benefit analysis that pits tuition and student loans against post-graduate job prospects).

So let’s look at the top 10 law schools, ranked by the percentage of their 2011 juris doctor graduates who landed jobs at NLJ 250 firms (i.e., “Biglaw”)….

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Rick Perry is so sad.

* Rick Perry’s primary ballot election law suit in Virginia was unsuccessful, but maybe the Fourth Circuit will help him out on appeal. Or not. At least Huntsman’s out of the race, right? [Bloomberg]

* That didn’t take too long. The National Federation of Independent Business has officially popped the cherry on filing lawsuits challenging Obama’s recess appointments. [Businessweek]

* Even if law schools changed their teaching methods to include more experiential learning opportunities, would anyone care? To that, the latest hiring patterns say: “LOL, srsly?” [National Law Journal]

* Joran van der Sloot has been sentenced to 28 years for the murder of Stephany Flores. Parents will now be able to allow their college-aged kids to spend spring break in Aruba until 2038. [CNN]

* Protip for child predators: claiming that you don’t remember pleading guilty will bring you as much success as your career in children’s balloon entertainment and law — not a lot. [Orlando Sentinel]

* The lawyers at this small firm might quality for senior citizen discount specials, but they’re working hard to put their 161 years of experience to good use. P.S. they’re hiring! [New York Times]

* Obama took a break from his vacation to sign the NDAA. But don’t worry, as long as he’s president, he’ll never indefinitely detain American citizens. Oh boy, we get a one-year guarantee. [New York Times]

* “By your powers combined, I am Captain Primary!” Four Republican presidential candidates are joining forces to assist Rick Perry in his quest to conquer Virginia’s evil election laws. [Bloomberg]

* 31% percent of lawyers are planing to make new hires in the first quarter of 2012. The other 69% are busy doing Scrooge McDuck-esque swan dives into vaults full of money. [Washington Post]

* What will happen as a result of non-lawyer firm ownership? More money may be good for lawyers, but not clients. But if it leads to bigger bonuses, most lawyers won’t care. [Corporate Counsel]

* Howrey going to get out of these class action cases? Howrey going to pay the rent? Screw all of that, here’s the most important question: Howrey going to get paid? [Am Law Daily]

* Here’s something for all of the Roe v. Wade opponents to celebrate: two doctors have been charged with murder for performing late-term abortions in Maryland. [Star-Ledger]

* And in other abortion news, according to a lawsuit, babies are no longer kosher at this Long Island deli. A woman claims her boss forced her to lose her kid or lose her job. [New York Post]

* In case you missed our coverage on these cases, the Institute for Legal Reform is rehashing last year’s craziest lawsuits in its survey of the Top Ten Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2011. [Yahoo!]

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the difference between résumé-based interviews and behavioral interviews. (In a nutshell, résumé-based interviews ask applicants for opinions about their personal histories; behavioral interviews ask for factual descriptions of how applicants handled certain situations in their lives.)

I really didn’t expect that to be a controversial topic, but I received messages by the e-mailbag full. Two folks recommended entirely revamping the way we interview candidates for legal jobs, and I’m sharing those two thoughts here — revealing the less controversial suggestion before the jump and the more controversial one after, just to leave you hanging.

My first correspondent, from a large West Coast law firm, said that he liked the idea of doing behavioral interviews, but he didn’t think interviews should be a game of “gotcha.” Thus, we should not surprise applicants at their interviews by asking an applicant to, say, identify a situation in which the applicant was forced to lead a group, what the applicant did, and how the applicant assessed the results. Instead, my correspondent suggested, firms should send to applicants in advance a set of behavioral interview questions that might be asked during the interviews, so the applicants would have a chance to think about their pasts, identify responsive situations, and give considered answers when later asked the questions.

I think that’s a fine idea, but I don’t think it’s a novel one. I recently saw several business school applications, and many B-school essay questions read strikingly like behavioral interview questions: Identify a certain type of situation in your past, and explain how you dealt with it. If business schools think that carefully crafted written answers to those questions yield meaningful insight into whether to admit an applicant into school, then there’s no reason why law firms shouldn’t ask similar questions and give applicants plenty of time to frame their answers.

But my second correspondent was even more radical . . .

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People have occasionally asked me for advice about interview techniques.

My suggestion has always been short and pointed: “Say something smart. Say something funny. Ask a good question. And get the heck out of there.”

What about on the other side of the table? I really don’t trust interviews. I don’t believe that it’s possible to tell during a half hour or an hour whether someone is truly competent or a great bluffer. I never thought I learned much from forcing people to talk about their résumés. So when I was interviewing candidates for jobs at a big law firm, I’d try to identify something that the applicant claimed to know — a practice area, a procedural issue, a case the person had defended — and engage the person on that subject. I figured that I was thus showing interest in something about the applicant while giving myself a chance to assess whether the applicant was sentient.

But now I work at a place that sells human resources consulting as part of its business. That requires folks to think a little harder about interviewing techniques. After all, if you’re offering professional advice about conducting interviews, you ought to interview your own job applicants effectively. I’ve recently been educated on this subject and, as a dutiful blogger, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned. What is behavioral interviewing, and why is it better than traditional interview techniques?

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We recently had to hire a new lawyer to help with our litigation in the United States. Not surprisingly, that got me to thinking: What are we actually looking for in lawyers that we hire?

Some companies litigate their own cases in-house, writing their own briefs, taking depositions, and trying cases. If that’s your company’s model, then you’ll need to hire lawyers with a certain skill set.

My joint operated that way at times in the past, but now uses in-house lawyers to manage litigation. We hire outside counsel to represent us, and the in-house lawyers typically supervise the work being done by outside lawyers. In that environment, who’s the right person to hire?

Even in that more restricted world, the answer isn’t immediately clear….

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