The Post-COVID Challenges to Hiring New Talent

As the working world emerges from COVID-19, candidates are in demand more than ever. Much like the real estate market, where home sellers have the pick of multiple exorbitant offers, so do lawyers. Successful talent acquisition programs are acknowledging and adapting to the competitive market by broadening the candidate pool through at least one of the following ways: (1) offering remote work/flexible office locations; (2) sweetening compensation and benefits; and/or (3) thinking outside of the box on the talent profile. Hiring managers must realize that they are competing against other companies that are making attractive offers, and if none of these are options, it may take longer to fill their role.

Flexibility is the new work-life balance

As companies are competing for new talent, there are two things to keep in mind regarding flexibility. First, most candidates consider a five-days-per-week office requirement to be a non-starter. Second, the single-handed most efficient way to become more competitive in this environment is to offer a full-time remote work option. But as organizations are formulating their return-to-office plans, they tend to fall somewhere in the middle, and there are a few alternative arrangements that have been successful:

  • A hybrid structure with a certain number of remote days in the office per week or per month. E.g., 2 remote days and 3 office days per week, 1 remote week and 3 office weeks per month, etc.
  • Increased PTO to allow employees to make family visits and vacations they had to cancel.
  • If possible, an expansion of available office locations so that lawyers are allowed to choose where to work rather than limiting them to corporate headquarters.

Compensation favors of the candidate

While it is not surprising to anyone that an increase in pay will do a lot to attract new candidates, there are a few things surrounding compensation that are unique to our current market. First, there has been a monumental shift in the compensation afforded to law firm associates and it is more challenging to sway candidates at firms to go in-house. It is unlikely that companies will be able to compete with this from a financial perspective, but it may be a good time to revisit base and bonuses for in-house lawyers across the board (current employees and future hires). We also expect to see sign-on bonuses become more typical as a way to offset some of the gap.

Remote work has also changed how people view compensation, particularly when it comes to their location. Candidates are more resistant to relocating than they have been in the past, driving more companies to consider only local talent. But even looking locally has its challenges as compensation is becoming more standardized across geographies. For example, Candidate currently works for Company A is being recruited by Companies B and C.

  • Company A: non-metropolitan area, pays $200k
  • Company B: same location as Company A, pays $250k
  • Company C: major metropolitan area, pays $300k and will allow Candidate to work remotely and travel to Company C’s HQ as needed

While Company B’s base salary is very attractive for the local market, they are now competing in the same talent pool as companies in other, more expensive places that have the ability to pay more. If Company B is unable to increase the compensation, it will have to find other ways to stand out to the candidate. The same is true for contract/temporary roles, and since those roles were even more likely to consider remote talent and recruit nationwide, candidates, regardless of where they are physically located, now have opportunities to be paid at high-end rates common in areas like San Francisco and New York.


The best all-around “talent” should be the priority, not a specific profile

Successful hires are also being made by hiring managers that are willing to think outside the box. Some have placed a bigger emphasis on hiring great talent, even if it does not fill a specific positional need, otherwise known as “best athletes.” These candidates are highly flexible, resilient, self-motivated and determined. They have an aptitude and desire to learn new things and are team players through and through. Other hiring managers have started looking to “up-and-comers”—lawyers who have a bright future that have a relevant skillset but are more junior than they initially set out for.

Recently, there has been an uptick in organizations hiring specialized litigators into non-litigation in-house roles (due to the fact that litigators in private practice vastly outweigh the number of in-house litigation roles, the pool of available litigators is often larger than other specialties). For instance, a litigator with a breach of contract specialty and the “best athlete” qualities mentioned above may be a great hire for a commercial contracts role.

One thing that has remained true pre- and post-pandemic is that most lawyers are open to other roles because the professional development opportunities in their current role are limited. Lawyers define professional development in different ways, but it usually involves a combination of compensation, the opportunity to manage direct reports, advancement in title and clarity on their path forward—what do their prospects look like 3, 5, 10 years from now? Hearing candidates out and knowing what is motivating specifically to them may lead to a hire that otherwise would not have happened—and it sets the stage for a much more successful employee-employer relationship.

The organizations attracting talent are moving quickly. They are decisive, attentive and focused. Because the market is so tight, even slight delays in scheduling interviews or approving an offer can be the difference between having a new colleague or going back to the drawing board. Organizations need to set themselves apart from the start and use every conversation as a chance to sell themselves. Flexibility and creative solutions will be key. 

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