Law firms are urged to be ‘kind’ and less adversarial in job interviews if they want to secure legal talent in New Zealand in a time of severe lawyer shortages in corporate, property and litigation practice.
Legal sector recruitment expert and founder of Auckland recruitment agency Altitude, Louise Hall-Strutt, said many candidates are basing their decision to accept a role on how they felt about the interview.
“I’ve had several candidates— particularly middle to higher level lawyers—tell me they will not accept a role because the interview was too formal or unpleasant, which shows how drastically the tables have turned.
“Two years ago, law firms had four or five candidates. Now it’s one candidate, and the candidate has three or four law firms from which to choose,” Hall-Strutt said.
The legal sector has shifted decisively into a seller’s market in 2022 as the demand for legal talent outpaces the supply. Even the larger legal firms are finding they can no longer rely on the weight of their branding to attract the best talent.
“The legal sector has always been a candidate-led market. But the unique circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic have created a perfect storm for the sector,” Hall-Strutt said.
New Zealand is losing lawyers overseas, and this outward flow is expected to increase. Working abroad is an attractive option for lawyers because salaries are higher, and they get more varied work experience.
Hall-Strutt said New Zealand lawyers leaving to work offshore creates a situation known as the “missing middle.” The legal community has many graduates with little experience and also highly experienced lawyers but too few with intermediate experience.
“This effect is being compounded today because the Covid-19 disruption means intermediate lawyers are choosing to stay overseas for longer, and it’s harder to entice them back.
“Bear in mind this is all happening as the New Zealand economy begins to recover and legal work is booming–legal actions like restructuring, insolvency, litigation, mergers, and buyouts have risen 40 per cent over the last year.”
“Hiring good staff is more important than ever, but each candidate will likely be courting multiple offers.”
Hall-Strutt offers a handful of tips for firms hoping to convince a great candidate to join.
1. Be authentic
The days of the rigorously formal interview are over, Hall-Strutt said. While it is still essential to ask all the right questions of a candidate, it’s far more palatable to conduct an interview over a coffee than in the boardroom.
“People want to work for someone they like. Work is no longer just a place you go to earn money. Candidates want to be part of a place that aligns with their values.
“If employers don’t change their interview approach, they will leave candidates feeling grilled, putting them off. Have a conversation, not an interview. Be a real person,” Hall-Strutt said.
2. Show your hand
It’s often not obvious what a legal firm’s unique selling point (USP) is or what its values and workplace culture are. Candidates with options are less likely to take the risk of finding out.
“Candidates want to hear about the bigger picture. They want to know about the team structure and how the firm operates. They want to know what the company values are. Being clear on your USP will help immensely to get them across the line,” Hall-Strutt said.
3. Act quickly
In a seller’s market, there is no award for second place. While it is important to check the background and credentials of a potential candidate comprehensively, don’t let that rigour get in the way of speed, Hall-Strutt said.
“If you are keen on a candidate, act quickly. Keep up the momentum because the speed to hire has dramatically increased.
“A delay can also send the wrong signal to a candidate about the integrity of your brand as the saying goes, first impression matters. And in this market, interviews are a two-way street. The candidate is interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them,” Hall-Strutt said.
About Altitude Recruitment
Having worked in the Legal sector for over six years, Founder and Director Louise Hall-Strutt started Altitude Recruitment in 2021 because she is passionate about aligning the goals of candidates and clients and helping people to reach new career heights.
Altitude Recruitment’s mission is to inspire and motivate people to reach their full potential by taking a proactive approach and simplifying the legal recruitment process–to connect like-minded individuals. Altitude Recruitment has extensive experience in placing candidates into a broad range of mid-tier, top-tier and boutique firms as well as in-house opportunities across New Zealand with a particular focus on Auckland.
The firm also assists candidates when they return from overseas. Having relocated from the UK herself, Louise Hall-Strutt understands the transition involved when returning to settle in New Zealand after a period of time working away.