Remember morning rush hour? Or being stuck at the office until 9:45pm on a Friday night? While so much has changed as we’ve settled into remote work, many segments of the legal industry continue to roar as they did pre-pandemic. And the most astute, successful firms are seizing this uncertain time to add talent and bolster their teams for the future. But against this backdrop, recruiting lateral talent presents its own unique challenges in an ever-evolving hiring process. So how does interviewing in the age of Covid-19 work, and how do firms and candidates gather the necessary information about one another from six feet apart?
So 2019, No. 1:
Interviews must be held in an office and in-person.
2020? For decades, offices, hotel lobbies, and coffee shops were the primary domain for interviews. But just as Covid-19 has rewritten the rules about social norms, business practices, and government debt, so goes the interview process. Now more than ever, successful interviews are happening anywhere, anytime. Flexibility is ruling the day.
It goes without saying that the video interview has taken over, so we won’t bother with another etiquette lecture. But with so many of us working remotely, the added freedom has made interview scheduling easier than ever. Employers and candidates are genuinely embracing (or begrudgingly accepting) the new reality, often going through every step of the hiring process without an in-person meeting. Fingers crossed we don’t end up having to publish our draft post, “Zoom Crash Leads to Collapse of Modern Civilization”.
The right fit concept is deeply ingrained in our job search/hiring culture and pushes us towards personal contact. Navigating the murky waters of possible in-person meetings can be tricky for all sides involved, and of course everyone has to make decisions about their own comfort zone.
How employers and candidates deal with this issue can say a lot about them. A complete lack of flexibility from the employer could reflect other long-term aspects of their policies, so you might want to let that ship sail. On the other hand, a lack of flexibility by the candidate, especially if presenting an in-person meeting as an ultimatum for moving forward in the interview process, can be perceived as tone-deaf and result in a withdrawn offer.
But as with the rest of life, there has been a slow return to some in-person activity. We have scheduled meetings in public parks and at outdoor cafes. The most creative location we’ve seen: “I’ll meet him in the fishing section at 3pm” — and thus a mid-level litigation associate interview with a national firm went down in a Cabela’s Sporting Goods store.
So 2019, No. 2:
Lateral Interviewing typically follows a set process and timeline.
2020? There is no standard interview process or timeline. So again, be flexible! Lateral interviews are challenging, time-consuming, and nerve-rattling even under normal conditions. While there are exceptions, we have seen more employers extend the interview process both by the number of interviews, length of time between interviews, and requiring additional writing samples, references or assurances before deciding (or declining) to extend an offer. By talking to hiring managers and partners on a daily basis, we have gained inside knowledge about the employer’s budget to hire, willingness to move quickly, and the competition under consideration for an opportunity, which is vital for making a successful placement.
So 2019, No. 3:
Live where you work.
2020? Work where you live (See what we did there?). Since most attorneys are now working remotely, firms are recognizing that employees can live anywhere and still perform. One of our clients, a NYC-based boutique, opened up their lateral associate search to the entire U.S., realizing that the days of showing facetime in a Midtown office have passed. Tech companies have long realized that workers can perform remotely; law firms and in-house departments are following suit. As a former tax attorney (Jessica writing here), check with your accountant on the tax consequences of living and working from a state other than where your office is domiciled.
Can you believe 2021 is right around the corner?
As autumn rolls in and the lock-down counter ticks into month seven, there is much reason for optimism in the lateral hiring market. Nimble firms who have mastered remote recruitment are making headline-worthy lateral hires and seeing immediate production. Those firms and companies who haven’t must follow the lead or will find themselves severely lagging when stability from Covid-19 returns. We anticipate that several positive factors will result from this challenging time, including efficiencies in lateral hiring as competition increases and the need for travel decreases. 2021 will almost certainly hold lateral options that were unthinkable in the 2019 legal industry.
As always, reach out anytime (Jessica, Daniel). We’re happy to discuss career opportunities, commiserate over Zoom fails, or share our favorite bread recipes if you can find any flour.