Culture in law – pushing away applicants and existing employees 

by Heat Recruitment

By Will Cairns

First impressions are everything.

Whether you’re a budding law graduate or a well-seasoned professional, the opinion you have of your potential employers hinges on how they behave at every interaction. This may sound obvious to some, but findings from a recent study reveal a worrying trend in the legal sector: unwelcoming staff.

According to the research, many law firms today pay little attention to the way they present the organisation to candidates, leaving once-hopeful applicants to reconsider their options – in fact, 49% of respondents cited unfriendly staff as a factor that had put them off in the past, while 82% noted ‘a bad experience at interview’.

Despite significant strides in legal technology, it seems the industry still has far to go in shaking off the chains of a stuffy reputation.

In light of these recent findings, we’ve identified the key areas in which the sector could improve:

Misleading job ads

When employers are eager to fill a vacancy, it’s not uncommon for them to fudge the truth in a job ad and paint an inaccurate picture of the opportunity.

In doing so, they successfully attract more applicants to the job and have a wider pool to choose from.

Unfortunately, the truth can only hide for so long. Once the new recruit has settled in and realised the role is not what they signed up for, they won’t hesitate to formulate an exit strategy.

Figures from the aforementioned research showed some 38% of legal sector job applicants had experienced misleading job ads, with the same percentage noting that training had not been provided as promised.

Further to this, a staggering 40% expressed dissatisfaction for the discrepancy between realistic targets and management expectations. Nearly half of those surveyed had left at least one job in the legal industry within the first year.

Above all, employees value honesty from their managers; they don’t expect a nasty surprise on day one. If misleading job ads forms the bulk of your talent acquisition strategy, it’s time to rethink your tactics.

A frosty front desk

Your receptionist may not recognise a new recruit, but that’s no excuse for poor manners. Anyone entering the firm should be treated with respect upon arrival, whether they are a client, an employee or a perfect stranger.

If your first experience of a particular law firm is an awkward conversation and resting grump face, it’s hardly going to entice you or excite you about the organisation. It may not seem like much, but just a smidgeon of politeness can go a long way in making your staff feel welcome – no matter how long they’ve been at the firm

This is where mystery shoppers come in handy: they can tell you everything you need to know about the first impressions of your firm.

A poor interview process

Applying for a job should be exciting; receiving an offer for an interview should be exhilarating. However, all too often, candidates in the legal sector are made to jump through a number of hoops in order to graduate to the shortlist of lucky few.

Respondents to the recent survey named poor communication, badly structured interviews, and a ‘long and cumbersome’ process as their reasons for passing up on an opportunity, and it’s no surprise. Interviews should be a two-way street, they should allow candidates the space and time to get to know their potential employer.

If the interview is conducted similarly to police questioning, the candidate will hardly will welcomed into the organisation. If anything, rigorous personality and aptitude tests can make a candidate doubt their abilities and refrain from taking the opportunity further.

A cold culture

Law is a ridiculously competitive profession. From day one, legal professionals are taught to compete against each other to get ahead; to do whatever it takes to make partner. Unsurprisingly, team spirit doesn’t come naturally for many legal professionals, nor does working for the greater good of the firm.

Because this culture is institutionalised, it can be difficult for experienced or aspiring lawyers to make a choice between firms if every place has the same culture.

As well as putting off talented candidates, an aggressively competitive working environment can often be enough to demotivate existing employees and push them ever-closer to an early exit.

While many firms are starting to evolve away from the traditional partnership model to embrace a standardised corporate structure, the cold culture that exists within many firms must be eradicated if the legal profession is to move forward.

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