Deep Hidden Secrets Revealed for Hiring Candidates in a Tight, Tight Market

Deep secrets to hiring in this tight market

By Chere B. Estrin

The other day while I was having my nails done and my lip waxed, I received a desperate call from one of our good clients, a major AmLaw 100 firm (the top in the country). The Talent Acquisition Manager had been looking for very experienced, sophisticated corporate paralegals across the entire country and could not, despite ads, referrals, many agencies and praying to the placement gods, hire candidates. The firm had 22 openings for corporate paralegals in California alone (attributed to opening new offices) and needed even more in offices across the country. 

The TAM was convinced that there were simply no corporate paralegal candidates available. None. Zip. Nothing. This fact is, of course, this may be construed as true but only to a certain degree. Candidates are getting new jobs and firms are filling searches.

Right now, McDonalds and Walgreens are not the only companies having problems finding people. This situation is rampant throughout the entire legal field. Of all the years that I have been in this business from both the major firm and staffing sides, I have never seen a market quite like this. Candidates simply have the upper hand and there are more jobs than available candidates.  And, in a way, they deserve asking for more what with everything they have gone through in the past two years during COVID including layoffs, salary cuts, furloughs and more. 

Right now, firms are offering unheard of enticements for staff positions such as hiring bonuses, retention bonuses, extra perks, more PDO, pet insurance (I like that one), free breakfasts, free lunch, child care (one firm has a 12,000 square foot facility), wellness centers, free gym, free parking in certain cities, and much more. Critical to this is upward mobility. 

Most of all, salaries are anywhere from 10-20% higher than pre-COVID. A couple of major law firms have broken with the lockstep method of salaries for associates (all first years’ get the same salary; all second years get the same, etc. Almost all major firms follow the same lockstep guidelines). This is because these firms are trying to keep their associates from being poached by other firms through the attraction of more money. I’m telling you. If you are trying to hire, it can be, well, hell.

I found the situation of my client interesting because we had been trying to assist them with very little luck. Why was that? We had another major law firm that needed 10 corporate paralegals in a short period of time and within 3 months, we placed 8 of the ten around the country. The hiring requirements were exactly the same as the firm needing 22 paralegals. In five months, we only managed to place two in the Corporate 22 firm. All the hiring requirements were exactly the same and I mean exactly. 

What was going wrong? Oh, lordy. Where do I start? 

How are you writing your ads?

Let’s start form the beginning. The biggest, most significant change in attracting candidates today is that prior to COVID, law firms wrote ads that said. “What are you going to bring us? This is the job and there are the requirements. Either you fit or you don’t.” Now, it’s the candidate’s turn. They are saying, “What are you going to do for me? How are you going to advance my career? You either fit or you don’t”. 

Most Candidates today want to get excited about moving to a new position. Important to understand, is that they really are looking for “what can you do for me” rather than “what do you want me to do for you.” One of the worst ways to advertise is the standard, boring, same ole, same ole ad we see daily. 

Prior to COVID, law firms wrote ads that said, “What are you going to bring to us? This is the job and these are the requirements. Either you fit or you don’t.

Now, it’s the candidate’s turn. They are saying, “What are you going to do for me? How are you going to advance my career? Either you fit or you don’t”. 

Here is a typical ad taken directly from a job board for a very major nationwide law firm:

Job Description Summary (Real ad)

Coffee Coffee & Whines is a leading employment litigation law firm with a cutting edge, internationally recognized, dynamic litigation practice with offices in California, D.C., New York, Seattle, and Shanghai. Our Litigation Department is seeking associates with two (2) to ten (10) years of business and employment litigation experience. 

The ideal candidate will have experience in advising employers (including and especially early and mid-stage start-up companies) on a wide variety of business issues, including risk management, wage/hour, terminations, reductions in force, leaves of absence, workplace investigations and worker classification assessments, and preparation or review of employment agreements and policies including offer letters, handbooks, compensation plans and separation agreements. 

Strong litigation skills including experience with complex cases, are required. The candidate should have significant command of civil litigation including California state and local employment laws, together with a business-minded approach to problem solving for clients. Candidates should have a strong background in employment law, litigation, top academics, and must have CA bar membership. 

Really? How boring and uninteresting can you get? It sounds ominous. Here’s the biggest question candidates have: “I know what you want. Are you even curious as to what I want?”  If you were a candidate seeking an exciting new opportunity, would this get your juices flowing? Probably not.

What’s missing here? What the firm can give candidates. It’s nowhere to be found. The ad sounds very formal and gives the message: You better have these qualifications and fit the bill or don’t even bother to apply. These typical ads are the worst I have ever seen for this market. You must delve into what makes you different from your competitors. Most firms don’t even address that. Their attitude? You would be lucky to work here. After all, we are so-and-so. Unfortunately, this approach is sooo outdated! 

Here is how we rewrote a similar ad for one of our other clients and received resume after resume after resume;

Awesome firm seeks awesome associates

Our client, a Los Angeles boutique litigation and employment law firm, has an amazing opportunity for awesome employment law and litigation associates. Your career will soar as the firm gives you what other firms don’t. For example, how would you like to work at a firm with no minimum billable hours? Or, how about bringing in your own book and getting 10% origination bonus? Seeking a powerful mentor? The Firm’s partners are highly interested in mentoring associates and training you to become a top litigator. 

We’re not done! This high-profile boutique firm does not have a lockstep compensation program and takes into account everything you bring to the table. You may also be eligible for a hiring bonus. Year-end bonuses are generous and above market depending upon the profitability of the firm. This position is right for smart, entrepreneurial associates who want to leave their big firms and go to trial in an innovative and clear path to partnership. 

About you:

You are a litigation or employment law associate with 2-10 years of experience at a top major law firm and law degree from a top law school with great academics. You have a stable background, a clear successful track record and a passion for the law. 

We know you are happy. Why not be happier? 

The Candidate Experience

Many firms are not aware of what horrible candidate experiences they hand out. These are firms that are wondering why they are not attracting enough candidates. Here’s a bit of truth: candidates talk to each other. If they have had a bad experience, they tell other colleagues. Word spreads and pretty soon, your applicant flow is substantially down.

Here is what you may have to clean up:

  • You are not responding to the candidate after receiving the resume
  • You interview and take weeks to get back to the candidate. You are waiting for what, I am not sure.
  • You interview and never tell the candidate if they are in the running or send a nice rejection letter. 
  • You set up an interview and keep the candidate waiting and waiting for you to arrive. 

We have firms that candidates tell us they do not want to go to because “they heard…”

Using social media

Simply put, social media works. If you are not engaged, do so now. It’s the most effective way to capture candidates and it is not always in just placing an ad. Here are some suggestions:

  • Offer content. Statistics show that candidates will read content over a job description.
  • Offer employee testimonials. Continually the best advertisement in the world.
  • Don’t just put associate jobs on your website. So many firms leave out staff. What happens? Those candidates simply move on to a firm that looks like it appreciates them. 
  • Put an FAQ section for candidates on your website. Highly effective. 
  • Allow candidates to submit resumes through your website. It causes them to act immediately and they don’t leave it for another time and forget about you.
  • Put out a monthly newsletter to potential candidates and let them know about good things happening at the firm. Make working for the firm as enticing as you can.

Working with your staffing organization:

OK, so I am going to vent here a little bit. Bear with me, I earned it.

Here is where the majority of firms go wrong. (Going back to our Corporate Paralegal 22 firm, it was impossible to work with them and we gave up.)  Firms not getting cooperation from agencies are those that disrespect the very agency they have literally hired to work for them. Yes, that’s right. Then, they expect agencies to continue to work with them. These are the firms that constantly say, “I never have much luck with agencies.” Gosh, I wonder why.

Many firms are notorious for taking their time in the search process. First mistake. (Ok, there are others.)  However, the average good candidate today lasts only 10 days on the market. What many firms ignore, is that staffing agencies are businesses just like you and must be treated with respect. To bring you even one candidate, staffing organizations must spend precious recruiting time sourcing candidates (putting in an ad and “posting and praying” does not work in this market). They approach passive candidates. There is no old-fashioned big black file drawer they open up and voila! therein lies a ton of resumes. Agencies interview, vet, background check and only then send the resume to you. Tremendous amount of time effort and more. And, let’s not even talk about the money they spend in doing so. 

Then, along comes your firm. You have given the agency work. Real work and they perform for you. However, you take an agonizingly long time to get back to the agency, if ever, about the resume. (I had one firm that rarely replied. When I asked, they told me that they had a lot of resumes and were too busy to reply. Great, just the kind of business partner I want after doing a ton of work for them.) I “fired” them immediately.

You interview candidates and either never get back to the agency or you keep them waiting and waiting to even find out if those candidates are in the running. You ignore the agency’s constant emails and phone calls literally begging you to just give some kind of indication as to where you are in the process. You figure “it’s just the agency.” You even interview and don’t get back.

Here are the consequences of not staying engaged with your agency:

  • Candidates do not want to go to your firm. The word is out on the street. They all talk.
  • The agency can no longer keep candidates “warm”. Candidates lose interest and have bad feelings about the firm and the agency as well. This is a risk on the part of the agency. They can lose good candidates.
  • Jobs close but you fail to notify the agency. In the meantime, they are spending time and dollars working on a closed job order. Would you think that causes resentment? Hmmm….let me guess here. 
  • Consequently, what happens is this: Agencies take your orders – but truthfully? After this kind of continued disrespectful attitude, they just take the order and ignore it. It takes just as much time to find candidates for a firm that will respond quickly as it does to one that doesn’t. Which one do you think they will choose to work with? Remember, this is how the staffing organizations earns its’ revenue. It becomes a loss of revenue to work with firms that do not respond quickly.  Agencies focus on filling jobs for clients that respond.
  • You lose candidates because you dragged your feet. The biggest excuse is “We haven’t heard back from the hiring manager”. Guess what? It’s your job to move them along. You rationalize that it’s ok because there are other candidates out there. Start being accountable and stop acting as a victim to the process. You are causing a severe bottleneck and it is your job to create a better system.

Constant communication is a key component to succeeding in this very tight market. Our favorite clients are those that send us a short weekly update about their current job orders. Some firms that give us volume searches have a weekly meeting to update us. That’s fantastic. We love it and give them our best attention. We know every week what the status is of the searches. It makes life and business relationships so much easier. 

Hot tip: One way to get hiring managers to understand today’s urgency is to make a short video that lays out the market and how the firm is clearly losing revenue by not responding. Make sure you quote numbers, dollars and percentages. That’s how to make it very real: How much money they are losing by dragging their feet. With that information, trust me, they are going to jump to the cause.

Ride the horse in the direction it is going

It is no longer enough for a firm to have, well, an arrogant attitude. We have had clients say, “just tell them that they get to work for blankblank”. Your prestige is no longer enough. That may have worked in another market but not today. Particularly if you only recruit from peer firms. Why would they give up what they have now to make a lateral move with nothing different? 

You need to create reasons why the candidate would want to come work with the firm whether it is increased salary, hiring enticements, upward mobility (a huge factor), work lifestyle balance (the number one request over salary), challenging and sophisticated work and more. Every firm has something that they are not advertising. Believe me. If you don’t have anything you can think of, go back to your partners and staff and emphasize the need to win the talent wars. 

One of the best ways to create change is not to come out and say, “This is our new policy”. This could be a career buster. Instead, present it as an “experiment”. If it doesn’t work out, it’s the “experiment” that failed. Not you nor the firm. Keeps a lot of mud off your face. 

Of course, Estrin Legal Staffing is here to help. Our policy is to not take on every single client. We are a small but highly effective national staffing organization. We only take clients that we feel we can work with, who are cooperative and respect agencies. We also can give more time to a smaller group than try to give a little bit of time to a huge volume of clients. We also don’t take every candidate. We only take the best

The end result:

  • We represent law firms that great candidates want to work for.
  • Great candidates want to talk to our recruiters – because, well, candidates talk

Keep going! Candidates are out there. They definitely want to come to your firm. They just need to have a great candidate experience and reason to come. I sure do know that’s what you are going to give. Happy hunting!


Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a well-recognized nationwide staffing organization based in California. She is the President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere was recently interviewed by Fortune Magazine (www.estrinreport.com) and has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005. Chere is a recipient of LAPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.

One Reply to “Deep Hidden Secrets Revealed for Hiring Candidates in a Tight, Tight Market”

  1. I just saw that you were quoted in the Wall Street Journal about wages going up in the legal field. It seems like you are everywhere. Chere, you really know you stuff!

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