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Four Ways Small and Midsize Firms Can Make the Most of the 2020 Hiring Market

October 15, 2020

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn on law firm hiring is on the minds of many. While no Big Law firm has yet canceled its first-year class, many are pushing back start dates until 2021, or until after the postponed bar exams. While this presents an issue for first-year associates (essentially putting them on pause), it also creates opportunity.

Opportunity for who? For the incoming first-year associate that is willing to think a bit more creatively about career prospects, and for law firms of the small and midsize variety.

Although the traditional Big Law hiring loop has been disrupted, career opportunities (some outstanding ones at that) may still be available for attorneys at smaller firms less impacted by the evaporation of high-profile corporate work. Likewise, the pause in Big Law hiring creates opportunities for these firms to market themselves in a way that might turn the heads of talented new attorneys that might not typically be on their radars.

Here are four ways that small and midsize law firms can take advantage of the uncertainty of the 2020 hiring market.

  1. Offer stability and an immediate start date. With so many first-year associates left in the dark, either wondering if they have jobs or what measures they’ll have to take to make ends meet while they await their 2021 start dates, smaller firms have an opportunity to turn heads with offers that promise stability. Top-tier associates, who are traditionally scooped up by Big Law, may be open to other opportunities that offer more certainty. Some who have already agreed to work for Big Law firms may even be open to reconsidering those commitments for the right opportunity. Highlighting your firm’s immediate opportunities, as well as the potential for an upward career trajectory, in marketing materials, digital media and outreach to law schools is a great way to attract top-tier talent.
  1. Explain how your firm will stay afloat during a recession. So many things are uncertain right now, so reassuring prospective associates that the firm is healthy and financially secure will be key to attracting and retaining top talent.
  1. Highlight your firm’s remote onboarding process. How will new associates feel part of the team when onboarding remotely? Do you have any special integration programs in place to make new associates feel connected to the firm, such as an associate summit? Do you offer virtual mentorship programs? In the age of COVID-19, young attorneys may be attracted to environments where they can feel like part of a larger team, even when working remotely. If Big Law is unable to offer it, perhaps your firm can.
  1. Offer short-term or contract work to would-be Big Law associates while they await their start dates. Talented attorneys who choose to wait out the Big Law onboarding delays can still be valuable resources for small and midsize firms. Why not bring these attorneys in on a contract basis to handle overflow work? The attorney gets experience and income without having to forfeit the Big Law job, while the firm frees up its partners and full-time associates to handle higher priority legal work. Who knows? That Big Law associate might even enjoy the small or midsize law firm experience enough to consider forgoing Big Law altogether.

Of course, many would-be associates who come across this messaging won’t be tempted and might prefer to simply wait on Big Law to come through. But with the right approach, you may just catch the eye of your next rainmaker.