Make the right hire: use an employment agency

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Published on 4/9/07

We've emphasized before that even the smallest practices benefit from hiring the right administrative help to free up attorney time for practicing law and winning new clients.

However, the hiring process in itself is complex and time consuming. That's why it makes sense for most small and mid-sized law firms to use employment agencies in filling staff positions.

Lawyers consider themselves great judges of character, but the hiring process requires far more specialized resources to be done effectively. Employment agencies have the knowledge and skills at interviewing, psychological evaluation and employment discrimination law to handle the recruiting, evaluation and hiring process effectively.

They also have the time and investigative skills to verify a potential hire's credentials and experience -- a vital task that's increasingly difficult to do because of privacy laws.

Employment agencies can also tap a wider pool of potential candidates.

Agencies spend a considerable amount of advertising money to recruit competent candidates through newspaper advertisements, telephone directories and websites, and at trade shows, conferences and job fairs.

They also do a great deal of phone prospecting: calling currently employed persons (who have been recommended to them, or who they have identified through news or trade stories) and saying, "We're looking for a person with your kind of credentials, would you know of someone who is interested?" Often the recipient of such a call, although not previously looking for a new position, will express interest and wind up in the agency's recruiting pool.

A lawyer may choose one or more agencies to represent the firm. However, selecting an agency requires basic guidelines.

First of all, be clear on the kind of position you need to fill (clerical, paralegal, technical) and look for an agency that specializes in that area. Ask for the agency's detailed rate sheet, printed information in addition to a website, current law firm or lawyer clients as references, samples of the agency's entrance testing, and their requirements for employment.

Once the parameters are set and the agency begins interviewing, a lawyer should make the final hiring decision. That includes evaluation of the agency's hiring standards and background investigation and of any specialized legal capabilities for the candidate. Most importantly, the lawyer should have a face-to-face interview with every recommended candidate to assess whether the person will be a good cultural "fit" for the firm.

Employment agencies typically charge 25 to 40 percent of the new hire's first year pay as their fee. A properly chosen agency is worth the fee, because it pays for the best contacts, the best screening process and the best knowledge of employment law to make sure the hiring process is done right.

That's important, because the termination costs just for an unsuccessful entry-level new hire can equal 30 to 50 percent of annual salary when the expenses of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training and reduced productivity are considered. Some studies place this number considerably higher.

Good people are too valuable an asset for anything but a professional hiring process.

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