All industries face disruption, laws change, technology evolves, and the behavior of consumers revolutionizes the way business is done. And this fact of change is especially true in the legal industry. That’s why law firms, legal recruiters and attorneys must prepare to survive disruptive technology, changes and trends. Below are a few tips on how to use competitive intelligence strategy and tactics to do just that:
Change As Opportunity
The first step to preparing for disruptive technology and trends is to recognize that all change is opportunity. It may not appear to be an opportunity on the surface, but if you’re using your competitive intelligence strategy effectively, you will be able to uncover the hidden opportunities that others overlook. Looking for disruptors should be a core part of your competitive intelligence strategy. Use tools such as Leopard Hot Spot to identify news items about changes in the legal industry and then dig deeper to find out how other legal professionals are leveraging those changes to their benefit.
Remain Primed For Change
Integrate a culture of change into your law firm, make sure partners, associates and other employees are prepared to transform at all times. And don’t make the mistake of believing that your competitors are stuck in the past. Use competitive intelligence tools such as Leopard Firmscape to spy on competing firms and take a close look at their moves. Are they slowly shifting business from one practice area to another because of changes affecting the industry? Run a hiring history report. Are they expanding their lawyer ranks while less visionary firms respond to current market conditions by shrinking their staff numbers? Recognize that all players in the industry are changing and make sure that you’re changing too so that you’re ready to meet new challenges and disruptors as they appear.
No organization can thrive during disruptive times if they’ve employed people who are averse to change. As you prepare to survive disruptive technology and trends, make sure you’re hiring attorneys who are prepared for the future. Use competitive intelligence tools such as the Leopard List to investigate top job candidates. Find out about their educational background, their associations, their employment history and recognize signs that indicate that they’re visionaries. The Leopard List will even allow you to use keywords to search a job candidate’s biography, making it easier for you to find the type of visionary your law firm needs.
Expand Customer Base
Every time a disruptor shakes things up in the legal industry it can also open up new and untapped markets. As part of your competitive intelligence strategy you should always be on the lookout for how a disruptive change will give you access to new customers. Keep your eye on the biggest players in your practice area and specialty to see if they’re tapping into a new customer base because of disruptive technology and trends. If so, carve out a niche for your organization. But seize that niche before the vast majority of your competitors so that you can get a solid foothold in the new customer base.
Whether you’re a veteran attorney or a newbie, job security is becoming more of an issue as the legal industry changes. But that doesn’t mean that you have to passively stand aside waiting for your pink slip. There are a few things you can do to improve your job security. Below are a few tips:
- Cross-train for multiple functions at your law firm and make sure you have a book of business. Attorneys who are indispensible on multiple fronts and who contribute to the bottom-line are less likely to be fired.
- Toot your own horn. Don’t be quiet about your accomplishments. Network with the right people (decision makers) at your firm and make sure they know how you’re contributing to the company. You should also keep a written record of your accomplishments and bring them up during annual reviews.
- Be a problem solver. Strategically volunteer for projects that will help solve problems facing your law firm. But make sure you finish what you start. Starting and failing to finish projects is worse than not volunteering at all.
- Continue your education and development indefinitely. The legal industry is always changing so you should too. Expand your skills and experience so that your expertise is never outdated.
- Keep your walking papers in order. One of the best ways to improve your job security is by making sure that you remain a marketable candidate. Constantly examine the needs of the legal marketplace and make sure you meet the requirements of today’s employers.
Every independent recruiter experiences it, a valuable but pushy client who tests the limits of your tolerance. And it’s in those moments that your professional and interpersonal skills are tested. How can you set limits with a pushy client and still keep the relationship? Below are a few tips:
- Set expectations clearly and early. Before entering into a business relationship with any client, spell out the terms of your agreement in writing. What do they want you to do? And what are they giving you for your services? Don’t allow any vague language to replace what should be very specific. Everyone should know the expectations upfront.
- Don’t let them violate the rules. Pushy clients will always try to get more out of you than the agreement states. To avoid being taken advantage of, enforce any rules and penalties you have in place. Remember, being too flexible will send a pushy client the message that you’re a doormat.
- When bending the rules for a pushy client, ask for concessions. For example, if a pushy client wants you to do a rush job, charge a rush fee. Whenever you consider giving a little slack to a pushy client, make sure they’re required to give something back.
- Avoid making threats and stick with limits. When dealing with unreasonable demands from a pushy client, avoid making empty threats. Simply restate the terms of your agreement, why you can’t concede to their demands, and enforce any punishments you have spelled out in the agreement.
As a legal recruiter, you’ll be forced to deal with people who want to take advantage, but it’s up to you to set expectations, enforce rules, and be willing to walk away from abusive client relationships.
One of the qualities that makes a legal recruiter the go-to person for law firms is their ability to recruit talent that will stay with the firm long-term. But how can a recruiter find and attract job candidates who won’t quit after only a year or two? Below are a few tips:
- Find job candidates who love their work. New hires with a genuine passion for their job are less likely to head for the exits when things get tough. Look at a job candidate’s level of career commitment – do they get involved in industry events, do they continually improve their skills and do they have a long-term vision for their career? If so, then you’ve probably found a candidate who is passionate about their work.
- Match the candidate to the right company. New hires who feel out of place at their new job won’t stick around long. Make sure that a candidate’s personality and career expectations match that of the law firm for which you’re recruiting. Don’t send candidates who have a thirst for adventure to law firms that demand conformity or offer few opportunities for exciting projects.
- Don’t sell the job candidate cheap. If you send a high value candidate to a law firm that can’t afford him/her, you’re only setting the employer up for a problem. Eventually that high value candidate will find a better offer and they will leave. Make sure a job candidate’s salary and promotion expectations match what the law firm can deliver.
- Ignore desperate job candidates. Any candidate willing to take just any job is someone who will move on to greener pastures the first chance they get. Focus on confident candidates who are willing to go after the job they really want.
Finding work has become increasingly dependent on technology. The ability to adapt your resume, cover letter, and job search techniques to new tech is critical to getting the attention of legal recruiters and hiring managers. Below are a few tips on what you can do to leverage the most common tech tools to your benefit:
Applicant Tracking Systems
A significant number of legal recruiters and employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) which allow them to easily filter and find relevant candidates without personally reading every resume that comes through their email. To make sure your resume gets through this technological gatekeeper, you will need to include in your resume keywords and phrases the employer is looking for. Scan the job description to find the most important phrases and make sure you include them a few times in your resume. By using these keywords and phrases, you will increase the chances of your resume making it through an ATS and getting in front of a decision maker.
Keep Your Records
In the old days, before ATS and databases, a job seeker could simultaneously apply for several positions at the same company. That’s not the case today. Because many employers keep records of your resume and cover letter, applying for multiple job openings can make you seem noncommittal. It’s okay to apply for one job today and then another six months later, but if you do, make sure the facts on your resumes are consistent. Significant inconsistencies such as different job descriptions, titles, and employment dates could get you flagged as untrustworthy.
Before sending off your resume and cover letter, use social media and search engines to confirm the accuracy of important information such as the contact and department name. Remember, employees can leave at a moment’s notice so make sure the addressee is still employed with the company before you send them an email. This is also true for following up after interviews. If you haven’t heard back from an employer, check the employer’s website or social media accounts to make sure your interviewer is still working with the company. If they’re no longer employed there, consider using social media to find out who will take over their duties.
What do extraordinary law firms and legal recruiters have that other, less successful businesses don’t? A sustainable competitive advantage. A sustainable competitive advantage is an advantage that you have over competitors that cannot be easily copied and that can be maintained over an extended period of time. But how do you develop and keep this type of advantage using competitive intelligence? Below are a few strategies:
Some Types of Advantage
Location and Client Access: Are you the only law firm serving clients in a particular city/town? Or, do you have an in-point into a particular customer base (i.e. immigrants, ethnic minority groups etc.)? If so, then you have a competitive advantage that might be sustainable. Take a look at your most important competitors; have they left a door open for you to seize prominence in a certain location or community? Use competitive intelligence tools such as Leopard Firmscape to find competing firms in your city or region, and then investigate how deep their market penetration is. Did they recently open a new office? Expand to a new practice area? Or, encroach on your territory? Your competitive intelligence data gathering should help you uncover if you’re gaining (or losing) your competitive advantage.
Client Loyalty: Having clients who return to work with you repeatedly is a competitive advantage that’s not easily duplicated. Take a look back at your client relations, how many of your clients do long-term business with your company? If you’re a legal recruiter, how many employers repeatedly give you job orders? If you’re a law firm, how many clients repeatedly call on you for legal services or refer you to others? How loyal are your competitor’s clients? Using Law Firm Profiles take a look at current and past press releases and news items related to your most important competitors’ clients and find out how loyal their customers really are. If you find that you have an unusually loyal client-base, then you probably have a sustainable competitive advantage.
Information Access: Data is power, especially in a society that is becoming increasingly knowledge-based. If you have access to important but difficult to find information, this could be a sustainable advantage. This difficult but important information could be in the form of the attorneys you hire or even consultants you have special access to. For example, if there is an emerging practice area, you may develop a competitive advantage by hiring the most skilled attorneys in that niche. Using competitive intelligence tools such as Leopard Firmscape, try to identify which attorneys have skills and information that’s in short supply and consider getting them on your team to create a sustainable competitive advantage.
Unique Services: Providing services that are high quality can give you a sustainable advantage because it’s something that is difficult to do consistently. Identify how your legal or recruiting services exceed the quality offered by your competitors and then develop a reputation for excellence. While this type of sustainable competitive advantage can take considerable time to develop, it’s probably one of the most difficult things to emulate and therefore the most valuable. So if you can achieve a reputation for excellence you can develop an advantage few competitors will be able to emulate.
As you work to develop your competitive advantage, remember that it’s only limited by your imagination and the expectations you impose. Some of the best competitive advantages are those that no competitor has thought of before.
While the use of social media has grown amongst legal recruiters, cold calling is still the heart of finding clients. But despite its important nature, many legal recruiters still make fatal cold calling mistakes. Let’s take a closer look at four cold calling mistakes and how you can avoid them:
Mistake #1 – Talking to the wrong person.
Cold calling is effective, but only when you’re talking to the person who can make decisions. Before picking up the phone, do your homework to find out who the decision makers are. Always be polite with gatekeepers but don’t waste your sales pitch on them, save that for the person who makes the hiring decisions.
Mistake #2 – Debating with the hiring manager.
When calling a potential client, you want them to see things your way. That’s natural. But it’s a mistake to enter into a debate. If the potential client says something you don’t agree with, avoid trying to correct them, especially if the statement is about their business. Remember, disagreement will almost always come across as arguing.
Mistake #3 – Not understanding your service.
One of the most deadly cold calling mistakes you can make is failing to prepare for questions about your recruiting service. Before you pick up the phone, think about what type of questions the client will have and be prepared to answer in a way that will satisfy their core concerns.
Mistake #4 – Meandering on the phone.
Every cold call should be quick, concise and to the point. Pitch your service, answer client inquiries and then ask for the sale. Don’t drag the conversation out.
Before you head off to your next job interview, remember that you’re also interviewing the employer. Because you’re not just looking for a job, but a career, you’ll need to make sure that they’re the right match for you. Below are some of the most important questions to ask when interviewing an employer:
How did your last employee work out?
Whether you’re the second or tenth person to fill a new position, you must find out how the previous worker performed, why they left, and what conflicts existed when they were employed at the firm. The answers to these questions will help you understand the employer’s real expectations, potential problems you may face, and whether the position is a coveted one or something everyone avoids.
How do you expect this position to change over the next year?
While everyone hopes that they’re getting the job they applied for, the truth is that some employers use bait and switch tactics. To avoid taking a job that radically changes after you’re hired, find out what changes the employer expects to make. If they mention changes that would increase your responsibilities, ask if compensation will also increase.
What type of cases did the previous attorney work on?
With any attorney position, there are ideal cases and typical cases. You want to find out what the typical case is for your position. It’s the typical case that you’ll be faced with on a daily basis. So, if you’re looking for specific day-to-day experience, pay close attention to what the typical day looks like for someone working in that position.
For independent recruiters branching out on their own, being productive is critical to finding success. But can you be productive and still have a life? Yes, but you’ll need to adjust a few habits and ideas. Below are a few tips:
- Value every minute. The first step to being productive and still maintaining a life outside of work is to begin looking at your life in increments of minutes. Many recruiters wanting to improve productivity focus on hours, days and weeks, but this ignores the fact that you can get a lot done in just a few minutes. To get more done, squeeze the small tasks into the spare minutes in your day.
- Focus and avoid distractions. For years, productivity experts encouraged workers to multitask. The common wisdom was that if you could do more than one thing at a time, you would ultimately get more done. Well, the truth is that unless you have two brains, doing multiple tasks can slow you down. So instead of trying to do two or more tasks at once, you should focus on a single task and avoid any distractions.
- Take your breaks – all of them. Working 24/7 is not only tiring, it’s counterproductive. You’re less likely to finish tasks accurately if you’re tired. That’s why it’s important that you take periodic breaks throughout the day to recharge your batteries. It’s okay to work extra once in a while, but making overtime a habit can lead to burnout.
- Take a vacation. Just as periodic breaks help you recharge, taking a real vacation will help you maintain your health and sanity. By having prescheduled days off, you’re less likely to procrastinate because you know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel of work. Even if you’re a stickler for working weekends, try to schedule at least one weekend off a month.
Most job search tips are standard and common sense, wear business attire, follow-up, and prepare for the interview. But there are a few helpful tips that are just as useful, even if they’re a little unconventional. Let’s take a closer look at a few unusual but useful job search tips for attorneys:
- Look for your blind spots. In the job market, you’re encouraged to take on the position of expert. So, it’s natural that you’ll want to show legal recruiters and hiring managers that you know your stuff. But watch out, you have a blind spots that could stagnate your search. That’s why it’s important to identify your blind spots and then take action to correct them. Are you lacking skills that are growing in importance? Are you behind the times in learning about the latest developments in your practice area? Whatever your blind spot, make sure you’re seeking out good advice so that you can correct them.
- Research the law firm BEFORE you apply. Most job seekers rush to apply for open positions as soon as they see them because they want to be the first resume on the recruiter or hiring manager’s desk. But this could be a mistake, especially if you later learn that the law firm is not for you. A better strategy is to thoroughly investigate the law firm before applying. Research the firm’s history, their strengths and weaknesses. Look into the background of the attorney’s working there and most importantly figure out how working at the law firm will advance your career.
- Apply for the job that will get you to your future destination. It’s easy to get caught up in finding the perfect job today. But what’s more important than finding your perfect job is fining the job that will help you get to your future destination. Ask yourself, where do you want to be in five years? Will working at this firm help you get the experience and skills you need to reach your career goals? If not, you may want to keep looking for the right match.