How can smaller legal firms stand out in their recruitment efforts?

Written by: Faith Kelly, Sellick Partnership
Published on: 14 Oct 2021

2021 has marked a vigorous return to growth for the legal recruitment market, as law firms of all sizes seek to invest in fresh talent to help them get their business plans back on track after last year’s unprecedented disruption. This has created a uniquely competitive hiring environment, with firms across the country battling to secure the best available talent.

For smaller legal firms, the current landscape exacerbates the challenges they are used to facing when competing for talent against the largest market players and biggest brands. However, there are a number of ways in which small firms are still able to make an impression and cut through to candidates who may be a perfect fit for the roles they have to offer.

Here, we will provide tips and advice for recruiting within a small legal firm, which can help ensure that your organisation is presenting itself to prospective candidates in the best possible light.

Highlighting the appeal of working for a small firm

The first and most important lesson for smaller firms looking to make an impression within the current competitive recruitment landscape is to concentrate on the reasons why a candidate might specifically choose to work within a small team.

Many employers in this position assume that attracting the right people is always going to be an uphill struggle, and that they will be unable to compete with larger organisations for the same talent. However, this is not always the case — in reality, there are notable differences in the kind of professional experiences candidates will expect from a large company compared to a smaller one, and many will be actively seeking out the latter.

Although the biggest legal firms are able to provide salary rates and professional opportunities that smaller firms cannot always match, there are certain trade-offs that come with this. Many find working at a large firm to be impersonal and unfulfilling, with less control over their career path and fewer opportunities to get to know their team, while others may be dissatisfied with the speed of their progression as they move slowly through the ranks.

This highlights some of the key points of appeal of working with a small firm:

  • Smaller firms offer a tight-knit, familial feel, where every member of the organisation knows each other and works together closely, creating strong bonds and a collaborative work environment
  • With fewer members on the team overall, new starters will be able to take on responsibility and autonomy more quickly, getting hands-on experience of leading important client work rather than simply assisting
  • Smaller teams can offer more opportunities for promotion and professional advancement, with fewer colleagues to compete with internally for top roles

However, it should also be borne in mind that life at a smaller firm will not suit every candidate. Some may have career or salary ambitions that can only be achieved with a larger company, while others may find the focus on close teamwork and personal responsibility that comes with working at a small firm to be off-putting.

This is why it is vital to ensure that these companies are taking an approach to their recruitment that ensures they are making themselves as visible and appealing as possible to those candidates who are most likely to thrive in a position at their firm.

Recruitment advice for small legal firms

In order to maximise your firm’s appeal to prospective applicants and compete on even footing with larger rivals, small law firms should consider the following advice:

Be creative in designing your benefits package

Although some smaller firms are able to match the salary offers provided by larger organisations, many will not be able to do so, which is why it is important for these firms to be creative when designing and pitching their benefits package for candidates.

This may include, for example, the promise of quicker or more tailored career progression opportunities, or an offer of “unlimited” holiday time - in other words, an annual leave package that can be designed flexibly around capacity and caseloads, rather than hard-and-fast limits on the number of days that can be taken off.

Other potential benefits can include smaller perks such as free fruit and coffee in the office, Friday drinks, regular social events and other similar incentives. Larger firms often have rigid policies in place when it comes to offering benefits, so smaller companies should take advantage of their additional leeway to provide tailored incentives that speak to the preferences of the candidate in question in a more personalised way.

Create eye-catching, accessible job adverts and listings

Unlike larger brands, small firms cannot necessarily depend on their company name alone to catch the eye of a potential candidate, so their job adverts and listings should be eye-catching, concise and appealing enough to grab the attention purely on their own merit.

In the current recruitment landscape, applicants are often scrolling through a large number of options and offers, so your advert should get straight to the point, with bulleted lists that clearly highlight the key takeaways in an accessible format.

Advertising should also take into account the ways that candidates are mostly likely to be searching for roles. This means keeping LinkedIn profiles active and regularly connecting with potential applicants through the platform, and also ensuring that listings are optimised to display correctly on mobile devices.

For smaller firms, teaming up with an experienced recruiter can also be a significant aid to your hiring processes. By partnering with an agency focused in your region to assist with your vacancies, you can gain access to a much larger network of potential candidates than would otherwise be possible.

Stand out with a flexible, appealing interview process

The interview stage is your only real opportunity to give a candidate a strong impression of your firm’s culture and personality, so you should design your interview process to showcase this. This can be a key advantage for smaller firms, as large companies are often compelled to follow highly standardised and rigid interview formats that some candidates can find stifling.

By contrast, a smaller firm can introduce flexibility and human connection to the interview process, allowing conversations to take place over coffee, or for candidates to meet the whole team and observe their working dynamics first-hand. Taking a personal approach to interviewing can make a very strong first impression, and could even be a deciding factor for many applicants.

Consider the reasons why a candidate is applying

If your firm receives an application from a candidate who is primarily experienced working with larger companies, it is worth enquiring into their specific reasons for making this switch. Not only will this help you to tailor your employee offering to meet their needs, but it can also help you to anticipate potential problems or barriers that may stop them from succeeding.

By asking them what they hope to achieve by working with your firm and what their expectations are, you will gain a clearer view of whether they will be able to fit into your working culture. Asking these questions upfront could potentially save you the wasted time and investment that comes with taking on a new member of staff who leaves after only a short period of time.

Be open to receiving speculative applications

Smaller firms will usually have fewer live vacancies at any given point than a larger company. As such, it can be worthwhile for these organisations to be open to receiving speculative CVs, or even holding a meeting with a promising prospect who expresses interest.

After all, an ideal candidate may make contact at any time, and they may no longer be on the market by the time a role becomes available; by making these connections and keeping their files on record, you will be able to easily revisit these opportunities, rather than having to start from scratch.

Give yourself plenty of time to recruit

Small legal firms have much less leeway than large ones to allow a key role to remain unfilled for an extended period. As such, you must give yourself more than enough time to find the right candidate - if you are expecting a vacancy to take a month to fill, give yourself two months to fill it.

After all, because smaller firms are less well known, it may take longer to find and connect with a suitable applicant. Moreover, the hiring process may be delayed further by the recruit’s notice period, which could last anywhere from one to six months. By giving yourself enough time to fill a role, you will be able to avoid leaving your team short-staffed — or rushing the process and filling the vacancy with an unsuitable candidate who then needs to be quickly replaced.

By following this advice, even the smallest legal firms will be able to gain access to a wide pool of talent, and give themselves the best possible chance of competing for sought-after candidates who offer the right cultural fit for their role. In doing so, they will be able to make the most of the available opportunities for growth in the legal sector today.