Attracting the best possible lateral associates is critical to a law firm’s ability to maintain its competitive edge, financial leverage, internal succession and future success.

The January 2012 issue of LAWPRO Magazine included an article by Cleo Kirkland, a senior recruitment consultant at The Counsel Network in Toronto, which discussed what firms can do to both attract the best new talent and retain the best people they already have. It features examples of different approaches firms have take to address this challenge.

A common mistake firms make is to identify needs only when they become crises, i.e., when there is an immediate and pressing position that needs to be filled. Instead of this reactive approach, firms should forecast forward and identify their needs over the next several years in order to ensure a constant flow of the right people. Knowing who might be favourably inclined to join your firm and when and how to initiate contact with them is one of the best ways a focused recruiting process can deliver value to a firm. A strategic recruitment plan will infinitely increase your firm’s chances of hiring and keeping the best.

Simply placing an ad in the Ontario Reports (or an equivalent publication) typically results in nothing more than a large number of unsuitable candidates. No doubt some firms have had great luck in catching a top associate who has gone on to become a leader in his or her field. But the chance of coming across the right candidate at just the right time, persuading her to join your firm and finding that she is a good fit is rare and the cost of getting it wrong is high.

Targeted brochures and website pages, a designated recruitment/professional development director and a formal employee referral program can all be strong components of a firm’s overall recruitment strategy. Use your firm and other legal recruitment websites to post openings. Encourage partners and associates to actively network at conferences and industry events that are likely to be frequented by top performers. Cultivate relationships with law school career offices and legal recruiters. Develop a ‘story’ about your firm that delivers a consistent message to the marketplace about who you are and where you are going, and spread the word!