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Sometimes, the best person for the job already has one. For high-calibre legal roles, experience, skills and knowledge can be a valuable asset. Typically this means top candidates are already employed, and not actively looking at the job market. In recruitment, we call these ‘passive candidates’.

Encouraging passive candidates to make a professional change has always been a challenge for the legal industry. Often comfortable with the role they have, well paid and looked after by their current employer, they’re reluctant to rock the boat. Without a specific reason to switch jobs, such as relocation, wanting an upgrade in the profile of the firm, or even the desire for a more flexible role, many choose to stay put.

Securing top talent, particularly against the uncertain backdrop of a pandemic, remains an uphill battle. Legal recruiters need to come up with new strategies to source candidates and to encourage them to move, in what is seen by most as a risky job market.

There’s a lot to consider. If the candidate has been in their role for many years and knows it well, they many be reluctant to completely start over in a new business without knowing how stable it is. They would be giving up redundancy pay and also their legal employment rights, as these don’t accrue until you have been in the business for at least two years.

We speak to David Holden, National Head of Recruitment at Search Legal, about the current climate and how to encourage candidates to explore their next opportunity.

“Whilst we’ve seen a shift in recruitment overall, from a candidate led market to a client one, in the legal sector we’re still very much guided by in-demand candidates who have the pick of the market. Sometimes the best person for a role is a passive candidate, who may need some reassuring to take what they perceive as a risk,’ says David.

An effective recruitment process

Our legal recruiters are having to think outside the box when it comes to persuading passive candidates to make that leap of faith. Loyal and reliable, they are reluctant to move but can have a huge impact on firms if they feel supported enough.

“The current market is volatile, certainly not as much as other sectors, but we’ve still felt the effect. The legal industry isn’t immune to the unprecedented global crisis that is impacting most employees and businesses, albeit is demonstrating some really good resilience,” said David.

“Legal professionals are generally savvy, and have the right to be selective, but that seems to have increased. I’ve noticed that candidates will actively seek out information about the business, researching the finances and clients. They are gathering supporting collateral that will confirm whether the move is sound, and ensuring that their values align with those of the company before accepting any new role or spending time going through the recruitment process.”

As a consequence of this, legal recruiters are having to get creative when attracting suitable applicants. Firms have a role to play as well. Ensuring their employer brand is appealing and enticing, as it may be scrutinised by potential employees, can go a long way. Candidates are wary, and have a lack of confidence in the unknown, so it’s important to have a handle on Glassdoor and any public facing assets. For smaller firms, this can really work in their favour and will help candidates make a more informed decision

“Recruiters and employers need to be supportive and move quickly to secure legal talent, there’s no time to wait. Candidate confidence is crucial right now, if it is there when you are interviewing someone, it’s important to act swiftly to benefit,” said David.

Diversity and inclusion

With firms fighting for talent, and job seekers wary, where does this leave diversity and inclusion? An area of focus for many in the legal sector, experts are now concerned that COVID-19 will stall the diversity and inclusion progress that law firms have made over the past decade.

Diversity and inclusion is important because it creates a sense of belonging for individuals who may feel ostracised socially and professionally within a society in which they are a minority. Helping marginalised people feel like they belong, and accommodating their differing needs, isn’t easy in usual circumstances, but has become even more of a challenge thanks to the pandemic.

The SRA 2019 Equality and Diversity survey, held every two years, revealed that almost half of lawyers in the UK are female, but less than a quarter are BAME, and just 3% are disabled. Whilst the gender split is much more diverse than in other sectors, the numbers show that ethnic minorities and those with a disability have some way to go until they are represented.

“Diversity is the legal sector is vital, and it’s important that COVID-19 doesn’t mean that it’s forgotten about as a priority. Firms need to implement inclusion strategies for recruitment, particularly when the market is tightening as a result of the pandemic,” says David. “The legal industry reflects relatively well in terms of diversity and inclusion, let’s make sure it stays that way.”

If you’re on the market and want to find your next legal role, or if you want to discuss hiring a legal professional, get in touch with David and his team today.