By Kristen Gaffey
I had the privilege of moderating a panel last week at the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Conference in Boston. The discussion focused on first identifying the typical challenges many employers and career service offices experience on a regular basis that impede success. Then, the panel discussed ways to tackle those roadblocks in a creative manner and not just take “No” as the answer. The common thread that ties all these solutions together: build relationships.
Below, I have identified some common roadblocks and then some proven tactics to build relationships and overcome these obstacles.
- Time or Lack Thereof: The biggest challenge both career services and law firm employers mentioned was lack of time. “There just is not enough time in the day to meet with everyone, take every phone call, answer emails, create new programming, attend networking events, etc.”
- Student or Employee Engagement: How many times have you hosted an event with minimal attendance? Have you been stood-up by students or employees or know that whatever you say goes in one ear and out there other?
- Budget Constraints: Have you thought of a new idea to reach employees or students buy you afraid to ask for additional funding? Perhaps you are just used to being told “No” the minute you ask?
- Red Tape: Is a partnership or particular opportunity just not worth the effort because it’s too hard to navigate (or understand) all the requirements?
- Reputation: Does a law school or law firm not have the best reputation? Is your law school not one of the top-ranked schools to attend? Is your law firm known for long hours, low pay, or a high turnover rate?
The Solution: Build Relationships
As a former law school faculty member turned attorney recruiter, I have worked with law students and deans, attorneys (associates through partner level), and law firm recruiting departments. I have seen both-sides of the hiring process, and I have learned that both sides rely on relationship-building. This may sound too simple, but it’s not. When people connect with each other, they put faces to the name and are more open to picking up the phone, attending meetings, or feeling obligated to return that email. But how do you build those relationships? Here’s how:
- Gain Trust by Caring
While teaching law school, I saw first-hand that student buy-in, especially for millennials, is dependent on gaining trust. The best way to achieve this is by showing students you care. While this may sound silly, “Why should it matter if a student feels like I care, isn’t it about getting them the information?” Not for millennials. This group of students needs to feel rewarded and need to believe you have their best interest in mind at all times. The buy-in will result in more counseling sessions, better event attendance, and they may actually listen and do what you ask. Students do not want to disappoint you once they know you care. The same is true for the attorney candidates I now work with daily. As soon as I gain their trust, the attorneys respond more quickly and listen more attentively to my advice on interviewing, the job market, and potential opportunities.
- Work with Other Departments Within Your Organization
While you may be a member of one particular department, you are also a member of the same team of someone in a different department. Is there a department inside your organization that could help you reach your goal or help implement your idea? Many departments have similar goals. Why not partner with them on occasion to host events or combine resources? If your budget is stretched to the max, maybe someone else can lend a hand.
Developing relationships with other departments can take time. This involves more than just an e-mail. It requires you to get away from a computer and go find the person and meet them. Schedule meetings with these departments to discuss your goals and your resources. Look at where you both might overlap and then have discussions to inform each other on what you can offer the other. Continue to have these discussions, whether monthly or quarterly. The more you understand what each other does, the more you can help each other achieve your goals.
- Keep in Touch with the 2-7 Year Alumni
Happy alumni lead to future resources for other alumni or students. These alumni will be the ones to likely change firms and will be the most active. Invite these alumni to lunch or coffee; ask them to speak on a panel or attend an event. The result? The alumni will feel valued and it may help increase opportunities for students and recent graduates.
- Host or Attend Career Fair or On-Campus Interviews
Career Fairs or On-Campus Events offer opportunities to meet local companies, recruiters, or hiring managers. As the legal market grows, career fairs or on-campus interviews offer an easy opportunity to get alumni and employers together and to connect. Don’t forget your friendly staffing agency either! These agencies know the job market and can not only offer insight into the job market, but they can also spread the word about your organization (but they need to be included).
- Pick Up the Phone & Leave Your Office
It’s very easy to send an e-mail; it’s harder to pick up the phone, and leaving your office can be impossible. It’s easy to ignore an email or procrastinate responding. Picking up the phone and scheduling meetings creates direct contact-you hear a voice or see a face. You have a candid audience to ask about opportunities in the area, learn about the other person, and it shows you want to make the effort. Try cold-calling companies or firms in the area to schedule a meeting. Introduce your organization and how you both can work together. Perhaps you will learn about opportunities before they are revealed to the public.