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Strict Decision-Making Process for Offers
This is the critical juncture in the recruiting process. The candidates have
been interviewed, favorites have no doubt been selected, and the firm must
decide who will receive an offer and who will not. A word of warning”speed
is essential in this phase. Presumably, the candidate is interviewing with more
than one firm, and many otherwise amenable professionals end up with other
employers because their first choice simply did not move fast enough.
For the sake of speed and other considerations, this part of the process
must be tightly controlled. Before the initial criteria for a candidate is estab-
lished and well before any interviews take place, the decision makers in the
firm should have a process in place that determines who will make the hiring
decisions. It does not have to be, and probably should not be, a single person
who makes the decision. A recruiting committee or hiring committee is a
much better alternative. But it is important that once the committee is em-
powered to make hiring decisions, such power be unfettered by politics or
other considerations. This allows the committee to move quickly (an attractive
feature for almost all candidates), and it prevents political meltdowns within
the firm.
Using a recruiting committee has several benefits. First, no one person
shares the blame if a candidate turns out to be a bad hire. Second, a commit-
tee allows for a consensus dialogue, which avoids favoritism and bias. All too
often in the recruiting process in law firms, for example, a powerful partner
with a large book of business can subvert the process by “demanding” that a
certain candidate be hired (or shown the door, in some cases). A recruiting
committee allows for each person on the committee to have a vote and thus
forestall any dictatorial moves. Third, the committee itself has the advantage
of uniformity. The committee can view all of the candidates, both on paper
and in person, through their resumes, interview evaluations, and their own
personal interaction with candidates. If a large number of hires are to be
made, the committee can pick and choose candidates, even across different
sections of the firm, who are likely to provide a good fit.
After all interviews have been conducted, the hiring committee should
meet and determine whether there is sufficient information to make a hiring
decision. It is quite possible, especially with a lateral hire, that more infor-
mation will be needed. If that is the case, the partner with whom the em-
ployee will be working can conduct further interviews or have lunch with
254 Attracting and Retaining the Best Professionals

the candidate to f lesh out any concerns that he or she may have. Also, greater
weight should obviously be given to the opinions of those with whom the em-
ployee will be working”everyone should have one vote, but there will always
be votes that count more than others. Once the committee decides that it has
enough information to make the decision, the appropriate compensation has
to be decided before the offer is made.

Negotiation of Compensation
The issue of compensation is one of the most hotly contested and is one where
much depends on the individual culture of the firm. Many firms, especially
larger ones, subscribe to the theory of lockstep or banding compensation for
nonequity employees. This ensures that every employee at a certain level gets
paid the same amount or at least range of compensation, regardless of merit
or other considerations. In most large law firms and accounting firms, the cal-
culation is relatively simple: Each associate or manager gets paid a certain
amount of salary in the first year out of school, a certain amount for the sec-
ond year out of school, and so on. The only difference in compensation be-
tween employees of the same experience level comes in the form of periodic
bonuses, which is outside the recruiting process and comes well after the em-
ployee has been hired and evaluated.
If the firm in question is hiring new workforce professionals, lockstep
compensation is by far the preferred and most widely used method. The
package will be the same for all new hires, and there is little, if any, negotia-
tion. Candidates are simply told what the firm pays first-year associates and
perhaps are apprised of the potential bonus range for first-year associates
and what criteria determine the bonus. From the candidates™ perspective,
this system is beneficial because evaluating the compensation packages at
different firms is easy and transparent.7 From the firm™s perspective, it is
able to make hiring decisions based solely on the merits of the individual,
without having to worry about price and a blind-bidding scenario. The firm
is also able to include in its yearly budget the appropriate allocations.
There can be a more difficult scenario for lateral hires, however. If a firm
is approaching a lateral hire for a nonequity position, the lockstep method is
still viable, provided that the lateral candidate is satisfied with the compensa-
tion.8 However, if a lateral hire is viewed as a potential superstar or has a prac-
tice in a sought-after specialty, the candidate may attempt to negotiate for a
more lucrative pay package than others of his or her same experience. This sit-
uation must be handled cautiously. The candidate is attempting to gain the
leverage in the negotiations, which is a situation most firms prefer to avoid.
Also, if the firm allows this to occur, it is almost certainly inviting its existing
associates to renegotiate their pay packages. Therefore, a firm can start out
with every intention of maintaining a lockstep compensation package, only to
Professional Staff Recruiting and Retention

have it fall apart with the first exception. Most firms faced with this scenario
compensate such an employee through the year-end bonus structure, rather
than change the base rate of pay. This allows for some (but certainly not
complete) secrecy from other employees and takes the compensation negoti-
ation out of the recruiting process. It does require, however, a leap of faith
from the incoming employee that the promises being made will be fulfilled,
and this is likely to become an issue before acceptance of the offer. The can-
didate may ask for some comfort from a decision maker that the expected
“extra” compensation will in fact occur.

After the Offer: Selling the Firm
Once the candidate has been selected and the offer has been transmitted
(preferably through a personal meeting or phone call, not by a letter), it will
come as no surprise that more often than not, there is not an immediate ac-
ceptance. As stated earlier, the firm should probably not assume that it is the
only suitor for the services of the candidate. Therefore, the members of the
firm may be put into the situation where they will have to sell the candidate
on the firm and themselves. For the most part, this varies by candidate: It is
usually obvious whom the firm is competing with for the candidate and what
the candidate believes are the sticking points for accepting the offer. The
critical guidance here is that the members of the firm should not oversell and
should be careful not to pressure the candidate into making a decision. Can-
didates appreciate the time and hassle-free period in which to make this im-
portant decision, and constant phone calls or lunches serve only to muddy
the waters for many candidates, and to introduce undue pressure into the
process. Suggested best practices in this time period are periodic personal
letters from individual partners in the firm, offering to answer any questions
that the candidate may have. A “hard sell” may also have the unintended
consequence of making the candidate believe the firm is desperate or that it
is trying to force an acceptance before the candidate finds out something the
firm would prefer to keep hidden.
However, another possible scenario is that the candidate will have an
offer from one firm, but is actually waiting on an offer from his or her first
choice. Thus, the firm that has made the offer is the candidate™s backup.
There are a variety of ways to tell if this is the situation with a particular
candidate. Members of the firm should be advised that by the third time you
take the offered candidate out to lunch, his or her questions should already
be answered. Either the candidate is having trouble making up his or her
mind, in which situation no amount of cajoling is likely to do any good, or the
firm is being played for a better offer from someone else. In either situation,
it is critical that the firm handle the issue professionally. Once it is deter-
mined that sufficient resources have been expended on a candidate, the firm
256 Attracting and Retaining the Best Professionals

should make it clear that it will await the candidate™s decision within a rea-
sonable time frame, but that the offer does have an expiration date.

The Phases of Retention
Postrecruiting, professional staff retention becomes important. This section
covers the issues related to retention. Chapter 10 discusses compensation,
career tracks, and professional development in more detail.

Periodic Individual Review and Feedback
(Individual Review)
Feedback, feedback, feedback. Regardless of a professional™s view of reten-
tion in general, it is axiomatic that individual reviews are a staple of firm life.
Questions remain, however, around how formal the review process is (or
should be), the extent to which reviews affect compensation through bonuses
and merit salary increases, and the time periods appropriate for review.
Above all, the review process should be honest”do not allow the profes-
sional to hold views of his or her abilities or opportunities for advancement
that the firm does not hold.
Formal reviews are the most widely accepted manner of providing feed-
back within the firm. The formal reviews should take place on a periodic
basis, but no less than annually, and should take place at the same time of
year for all professional employees. Six-month reviews can be beneficial,
but this will depend entirely on the business of the firm. If the employee
has been working on only one project, for one supervisor, for six months, it
is likely that the employee and the supervisor both know exactly where the
employee stands with regard to his or her work, and a formal review would
be nothing more than window-dressing and a waste of everyone™s time.
The reviews should have both a scoring system under certain categories and
a section for the evaluating professional to add personal comments or expand
on answers in the numerical section.
The written evaluation allows for the supervisors or evaluators to clearly
document the professional™s progress, strengths, and weaknesses. Farther
down the road, when the professional is being considered for promotion or
partnership, these evaluations can present a strong road map and argument
either for or against the promotion. For this reason, firms should be encour-
aged to be honest on the evaluations. Nothing engenders bad will and inter-
firm gossip more quickly than a firm that “strings along” its associates, only to
tell them after seven years that they are not partner material. It is far better
to keep professionals apprised on a yearly basis of their prospects for ad-
vancement and how such prospects, if bleak, can be improved. Also, once it
Professional Staff Recruiting and Retention

becomes obvious that a person (such as a misfit, as described earlier) needs to
find another home, that should be dealt with at the next yearly evaluation at
least, and it can be done by a trusted advisor informally prior to that. Both the
employee and the firm will be much better off if everyone is honest about the
future direction of each party. Chapter 10 outlines the process of appraising
employee performance in detail.

Employee Satisfaction Programs on a
Class-Wide or Level-Wide Basis (Group
Review and Feedback)
The concept of group feedback in a professional services firm can take many
forms: associate committee, non-equity steering committee, associate com-
pensation review, and so on. The basic premise behind each is the same: to
serve as a conduit through which nonequity professionals provide input to the
firm. The meetings are usually held at least yearly and in some firms, as often
as quarterly. There is normally no voting power, and equity holders have no
obligation to heed the committee™s advice. However, it allows the associates
to feel as if their concerns are being heard, and it provides for a source of in-
formation that many partners would never know.
For example, many partners speak only of “office matters” and would
rather leave all other matters (including quality of life) to the hours when
employees are “off the clock.” However, if there is a competing firm that
continually addresses quality of life matters, the associate committee at
Firm 1 is likely to bring that to the attention of the equity partners. If the
matter is a continual refrain, perhaps some partners will engage before their
own associates decide to test the waters at Firm 2.

Mentorship Programs
The concept of a formal mentoring program in a professional services firm
has gained far more credence in the past 10 years than at any time prior.
However, it is a mistake to believe that the concept of mentors in the profes-
sions is anything new. In decades past, the only way to enter into a profession
was to attach yourself to a mentor, and “read the law” within a law office by
serving as a clerk for a number of years until you were ready to take the bar
exam. Ask any lawyer about his or her formative professional years, and you
will hear the stories of the mentor, whether it was a friendly one or not.
Professional services firms have taken the concept of mentoring and for-
malized it, thereby somewhat manufacturing what was previously an or-
ganic relationship. In years past, a mentor and a prot©g© found each other
through a natural process”the younger professionals would work on a proj-
ect here and a project there and eventually find a senior person whom
258 Attracting and Retaining the Best Professionals

they enjoyed working for, and vice versa. However, it did not always work
out that way. Even today, there are younger professionals who bounce
from partner to partner, simply because no one can determine the best fit
for them.
Currently, many firms assign the mentor and prot©g© to each other, often
on the prot©g©™s first day of work. And while this is not as organic as the
former system, it does have its advantages. First, it requires that some form
of relationship exist, and it prevents wallf lower partners or wallf lower asso-
ciates from hiding in their offices. Second, it forces prot©g©s to work with
someone to identify their goals and a plan for getting there. This is beneficial
even if the goal is not necessarily a partnership or if the goal is unknown. It
is one more way in which expectations can be managed. It also forces the
younger professional to develop one or more career plans and to plan with
contingencies. For the younger professional, this may be one of the greatest
advantages to a mentoring program.
The expectations of mentoring need to be established at the beginning.
Most professionals are extremely busy and cannot afford to waste time on
what they perceive to be nonbillables. However, if mentors and prot©g©s are
educated on the positive aspects of mentoring and what it brings to the firm,
they can slowly be convinced to spend their resources in this very important
role and function. Written guidelines should include the following, taken
from Ida O. Abbott™s excellent book, The Lawyer™s Guide to Mentoring:9

• Program purpose and objectives
• How the program objectives should be met
• How program objectives will be monitored
• How the program will be evaluated
• Responsibilities of the mentor
• Responsibilities of the associate
• How the mentoring relationship works
• Role of the program coordinator
• What to do if problems arise in the mentoring relationship
• How mentors and associates will be matched
• Duration of the mentoring relationship
• Time commitment
• How mentoring activities should be recorded on time sheets
• Confidentiality
• Budget

The advantages of an administered mentoring program are numerous, for
the firm as well as the prot©g©. The firm can immediately begin instructing
Professional Staff Recruiting and Retention

the professional on how it “prefers things to be done.” This indoctrination
(for lack of a better term) happens at most firms, whether it is overtly admit-
ted or not. Formalizing it through the mentoring program raises it to an in-
stitutional truth that encourages communication about what firm culture can
or should be. The mentoring program also builds a tremendous amount of
loyalty from the prot©g© to the mentor, and thereby to the firm. This above
all gives retention its worth in time and resources.
To make the process more efficient, many firms assign more than one
mentor to each junior professional. This allows the junior professional to
spread the questions around to more than one person, thus preventing the
mentoring program from taking up too much time from one individual. It
also prevents problems with bad mentors, bad advice, or simply a breakdown


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