Looking for Lawyers: Recruitment Marketing

In a previous column, I mentioned that law firm marketing activities should help enhance at least one of the four Rs: Revenue, Reputation, Referrals, and Retention. 

I missed a big one: Recruitment.

Is recruitment a marketing initiative? Depending on your involvement in the process, your answer might range from “Of course it is!” to “Who cares?” Law firm marketing departments generally like working on recruitment programs, because they use someone else’s budget and they often get the chance to do something different to help their firm stand out in its quest for the best students. That’s the plus side.

The downside is that in a mistaken attempt to be ‘cool’, they may be asked to create marketing materials that have nothing to do with the firm’s brand—or worse still, that make the intended audience feel belittled. The Director of Student Recruitment may be anxious to get away from a stuffy image and may think the answer is to use a creative agency that’s ‘different’ and ‘edgy’. Agencies just love being given a mandate to ‘think outside the box’. You’ve all seen the resulting videos: they give you the impression that working at ABC LLP is just a barrel of laughs, where students do little else than stage stapler fights and hide each other’s lunches.

I’m not kidding. For this column, I did a quick sweep through the student websites of some of Canada’s best-known law firms. Yes, I found some excellently designed sites that gave great overviews of the firms. I also found students lip-synching to rap songs as they race through their firm’s corridors, students praising the quality of the firm’s mints, animated movies of staplers, and videos that look like they were taken straight from the firm’s holiday party.

Do these tactics recruit better students—or do they just win marketing awards and turn off serious prospective candidates?

I feel strongly about this because I’ve worked with four different professions—medicine, professional engineering, chartered accounting, and law. I’ve found that students entering those professions have One Big Thing in common: they all want to be taken seriously as the professionals they hope to become. They see themselves as diagnosticians, designers, controllers, and litigators. They emphatically don’t want you to think of them as “The Kids”. As one student said to me recently, “Law school doesn’t teach you how to be a good lawyer.” That’s what she’s expecting from her law firm. Not scavenger hunts or great swag, but good guidance and interesting work.

Last year, the Law Society of Upper Canada reported on a career choices study among new and recent licensees. Of the key factors identified for choosing where to article, practice areas topped the list by a wide margin. Not costly catering or the latest electronic devices, but real-life legal work in their chosen field.

I write a lot of marketing copy for law firms and believe me, it’s hard work finding just the right selling points to differentiate one firm from another. The best sources of those points in most firms are the students and newer associates. This is particularly true for mid-sized and smaller firms. So to find out what students are looking for, ask them! Here are some recent examples of comments I’ve received from students and new associates:

“On one deal, I was opposite a sixth-year associate from [Big Law Firm] who’d never done the work I had done as a first-year.”

“If there’s something you want to work on, this firm will find you that work.”

“I’ve been to court three times in six weeks.”

“This firm hires only one student, so everyone’s always looking out for you, bringing you in on something.”

There you are: no mentions of size of office or salary, just What I Did at Work This Week.

So what should recruitment marketing materials look like? Most students I’ve talked to like materials that feature real people in action at the firm, not stock photography of glamorous models posing in unlikely situations. They place a lot of value on finding out who’s at the firm, who they would work with, and what kind of work they would do. The ability to contact students already working at the firm is considered a plus. They want to find the “How to Apply” information quickly. As one recent applicant commented, “I’ve got two degrees and if I have to search every button on your website to find out where to send my application, there’s something wrong with the website.”

Not rocket science, is it? That doesn’t mean it’s easy. You need to show (show, don’t tell) how you will teach students to be good lawyers. Now that’s marketing.

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