Taking Care of Legal Professionals From the Top With a Chief Talent Officer

Law firm recruiting and retention are key to a firm's success because attorneys are a firm's most important and valuable asset. In today's hot market, firms should be laser focused on doing everything they can to find and keep their top talent. That's why many top law firms have added C-suite level professionals to manage the executive and operational aspects of their firms including Chief Talent Officers — a role dedicated to recruiting and retaining law firm talent.

The Chief Talent Officer (CTO) role has become increasingly important as many firms have grown in size, expanded globally, and diversified their practice groups and service offerings often through lateral hiring and merging with or acquiring other firms. They are taking on initiatives that in the past might have been taken on by a law firm hiring partner or partners who can now refocus on managing busy law practices.

The CTO is usually focused on strategic growth. As a firm looks to expand its global footprint or strengthen practice groups, a CTO will be keenly aware of these goals and align hiring strategy with the growth plan. They are also often recruiting with diversity in mind, partnering with D&I professionals within the firm on diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives and working to ensure the talent they are hiring brings unique perspectives and that they are creating and maintaining a welcoming and inclusive culture. Because CTOs are at the forefront of hiring, they also lead brand building and reputation management in the market, making sure candidates are aware of the values and goals of the firm.

The Chief Talent Officer also plays a critical role in talent development, compensation and mobility across the firm. Knowing how a firm's business strategy aligns with its talent acquisition and retention, the CTO should use that knowledge to determine how the firm trains and develops its junior, mid-level and more senior associates as well as counsel. They are responsible for keeping attorneys at all levels happy, engaged and feeling appreciated. Even if they wind up leaving the firm — because law firm lawyers often leave to join current or potential clients or another law firm — lawyers who were professionally fulfilled will likely remain loyal to the firm and come back to the firm with work or referrals.

By having a CTO with a more holistic view, firms can recruit more purposefully, keeping their clients, industries, practice groups, and overall strengths and gaps in mind when engaging with new talent. In fact, when firms recruit talent with a wide-lensed viewpoint, lateral hires often fit better within the firm's vision and growth strategy.

In order to be successful, a CTO needs to have a global and holistic view of their firm's business and clients so that they can implement, lead and support recruitment initiatives aligned with their firm's strategic growth and evolving client needs. Some law firms have hired attorneys with law firm experience, often at the partner level, to fill the CTO role. This has its advantages because lawyers with significant law firm experience have firsthand experience with the pressures and challenges law firm lawyers face regarding generating business, performing at the highest levels, staffing matters appropriately, training young lawyers and retaining top talent.

Other firms, however, have brought on professionals from large companies, consulting firms or recruiting firms with deep experience in talent acquisition and retention in other fields. This skillset brings its own advantages, particularly experience and perspectives that are different from lawyers and can bring fresh and innovative approaches to recruitment, retention, and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

The bottom line is that a one-size approach does not fit all, and law firms have to take into account what works best within their culture.

In this incredibly hot and busy law firm market, where law firms are busier than ever and are constantly looking to recruit and retain key talent, law firms can reap huge rewards from having a Chief Talent Officer who has a 10,000-foot view of the firm's business, strategic initiatives regarding footprint and practice groups, clients and culture.

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