Employer Branding: Strategies to recruit the next generation of lawyers

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4 December 2018   |   By Claudia Behrend

Recruitment

Employer Branding: Strategies to recruit the next generation of lawyers

How do employers successfully target company lawyers on the applicant market? What sets them apart from law firms, and what is the secret of successful employer branding?

P otential employers must establish a distinct presence on the job market to attract the right candidates. While this may sound simple, given that all companies have to do it, it often poses challenges.

There are a wide range of factors that decide on success and failure. The Vienna-based Career Verlag has set itself the task of measuring and analysing the efforts involved. As part of the Best Recruiters initiative, Career Verlag has been examining the quality of how applicants are approached and handled since 2011.

In 2018, this analysis involved 136 criteria applied to the recruiting activities of more than 400 employers in categories such as career website, mobile recruiting, social media, online job advertisements and application resonance as well as usability in the application process, talent relationship management initiatives, and reactions to applicants making contact via email and social media.

This year’s winners in Germany were Otto, Deloitte and Altana, which also took first place in the ranking of the chemical industry. Among law firms, Beiten Burkhard was head of its class, followed by Luther and DLA Piper.

 So what are these companies doing better than the rest?

Using study results as a guide

The chemical group Altana significantly improved its overall ranking compared to its 21stplace in the 2016/17 survey. “We use the study results as a guide to help us identify what we do particularly well now, and the areas in which we can still improve,” says Susann Stefaniak, HR officer at BYK-Chemie, one of Altana’s four divisions.

“We made changes based on the results of the previous year’s study – such as redesigning our careers page and introducing new functions for the application process. Our first place in the chemical industry ranking is certainly also due to the fact that we treat our candidates as equals and don’t make promises that we can’t keep.” The key factor to success is the staff in the HR and specialist departments. They shoulder the responsibility of giving applicants a personal and lasting impression of the company and its culture in their daily interaction with them.

“To raise our profile as an attractive potential employer, we conduct marketing at universities and attend job fairs for specific target groups,” says Stefaniak. “We also use the social networking platform Xing to post our vacancies sometimes. For the legal field, however, we tend to rely on the traditional online job search engines and our colleagues’ personal networks.”

Social media, on the other hand, plays a rather minor role in the company’s employer branding. Uwe Becker, who has been working as a company lawyer for Altana since January of this year, confirms this: “I wasn’t looking for a job at the time and hadn’t even heard of the company. But the job profile made the position sound interesting and the conversations with staff were really pleasant and honest,” says Becker. He gathered information about the company from its website, where he had access to the corporate vision, the annual reports and the code of conduct.

Becker also searched online for news about the company and looked through the Xing and LinkedIn profiles of his future colleagues. “The company’s sound financial situation was also an important factor in my decision,” says Becker. He also liked the image film.

However, filling positions in the legal department is not always so easy.

“It is a real challenge to find qualified lawyers” – Volker Mansfeld, General Counsel, Altana

He has observed a major shift in the market situation: “Four or five years ago we still had a lot of applications, but this is no longer the case.” This is why the company has been increasingly relying on support from recruitment agencies for some time now – just like it did to hire Becker.

Outsourcing recruitment for the legal department

This is not an isolated case, and in German law firms there has been a growing trend towards outsourcing recruitment activities for legal department positions.

“About 20 percent of the positions for company lawyers are now being filled by recruitment agencies” – Bina Brünjes, Divisional Head, Hays

Since she established the department in 2004 it has grown considerably and now has around 20 employees located in Hamburg, Munich, Mannheim and Frankfurt. “We fill roughly 150 permanent positions for company lawyers every year,” says Brünjes. “We also find assignments for roughly 100 to 120 temporary employees.”

These fixed-term assignments are often found at large companies in need of fully-qualified lawyers, for example to cover parental leave and peak times, as well as at federal authorities to work on invitations to tender.

Many are hired on a permanent basis following the temporary assignment. “Temporary employment today can be a good way for young professionals without top-notch exams to get their foot in the door. But the fact is that these temporary arrangements are also sought out by highly qualified lawyers looking for an interesting and often very lucrative assignment,” says Brünjes.

She adds that a market favouring employees has emerged over the last few years.  “When I started at Hays in 2004, it was still an employer’s market, which made it possible for our clients to pick and choose their candidates. But today, there is a shortage of lawyers with and without top-notch exams, and candidates usually have two or three application processes running in parallel.”  

Hence the importance for good employer marketing. “Salary is an important factor for many candidates, but having the freedom to shape their work life is even more important,” says Brünjes. Other decisive factors include corporate culture, benefits such as a company pension plan, a company car, and affordable real estate, as well as economic stability and continuity. When asked about how a company can improve, she recommends that every company recruiting applicants needs to remember that they have a calling card on the market. A transparent and responsive application process is also indispensable. “In the age of e-commerce, people are used to receiving feedback quickly.”

Alternative offerings, like flexible working hours, home office and part-time working arrangements also make companies more attractive. “Companies have to adapt to the demands of generations Y and Z,” says Brünjes. Many applicants from these generations find it too tedious to fill out complex online applications. “I think there are promising new alternatives out there, such as giving applicants the option of just uploading their CV, and following up with a face-to-face pitch.”

Young lawyers want different things

Stefan Engels, a partner at DLA Piper UK LLP, also believes that the increasing demands of applicants is a growing trend: “Law firms would be wise to fulfil these wishes.” Many young lawyers experience a lot of flexibility during their legal training abroad and want the same for their life at home. “But they want to have a good lifestyle, too,” he says.

These expectations are accompanied by an attitude of entitlement – which is often met with a lack of understanding among older generations. “We asked ourselves what kind of culture we want to live at our law firm. We have been considering our cultural values since 2017, asking ourselves: what are our core values, which ones have changed and how can we develop our law firm in way that brings the generations together, from the baby boomers to generation Z?” says Engels’ colleague Christian Bieler, Head of HR Germany, Austria, Slovakia at DLA Piper UK LLP.

“We have to create an environment in which everyone can achieve success in their own way,” Engels holds. A lot had already changed in recent years: “The partners have become more approachable and we introduced smart casual in the office, except for client appointments.”

Engels has identified another major trend: In Germany, law firms are initiating their recruiting efforts at an even earlier stage, particularly in locations such as Frankfurt and Munich, where there is fierce competition for qualified applicants. DLA Piper is also trying to make first contact with potential candidates while they are still at university, for example by offering their Summer School Program for interns. “Good lawyers often attract attention during their internship, so it is our goal to get our name in the hat as soon as possible,” says Engels. However, the firm does not use social media for their employer branding.

The situation is very different at ProSiebenSat.1. The leading German media group is relying heavily on social media, constantly trying out new things and trying to remain accessible to its followers. The company has set up career channels on Instagram and Facebook and makes frequent use of moving image content.

“We offer a glimpse behind the scenes, talk about everyday work in various formats and give our colleagues a face” – Alexander von Voss, Chief Legal Officer, ProSiebenSat.1

Despite these efforts, it is not always easy for the media group to recruit qualified lawyers. “The fact is that many lawyers still think of us as just a television company. They aren’t aware of how many exciting topics we work on in the company, like our joint projects with our M&A department, or our subsidiary NuCom Group, which pools all of ProSiebenSat.1’s commercial enterprises,” says von Voß.

He adds: “We have identified universities that are particularly relevant for our legal work, organize joint workshops and guest lectures, and offer students the opportunity to visit our company. This allows us to make contact with the next generations of lawyers while they are still in law school.”

The company also places special emphasis on giving their lawyers a voice so that they can report on their personal experience of day-to-day work in the company. The company lawyers are given a platform to share their thoughts in various areas of the company’s employee branding, for example on the career website’s blog. “Our goal is to make ProSiebenSat.1 an employer you can relate to and also to demonstrate the diversity of the work we have to offer,” says von Voß.

The online retailer Otto took a similar approach last October by introducing the internal job program. It trains more than 100 employees to serve as ambassadors for the company and aims to give potential applicants and much sought-after specialized candidates a greater understanding of the company’s work environment.

The “ambassadors” discuss Otto’s areas of focus and developments at industry events or on the internet, enter into dialogue with potential applicants or play a part in the application process.

“There are no better ambassadors for Otto than our colleagues – they have the first-hand credibility to report on our working environment, the tasks at hand and the potential new team. That’s why the future of recruiting is our corporate influencer,” explains Angelina Peipers, HR marketing manager at Otto.

There aren’t any lawyers involved in the program yet, but all company departments are encouraged to participate.

Hence the importance for good employer marketing. “Salary is an important factor for many candidates, but having the freedom to shape their work life is even more important,” says Brünjes. Other decisive factors include corporate culture, benefits such as a company pension plan, a company car, and affordable real estate, as well as economic stability and continuity.

When asked about how a company can improve, she recommends that every company recruiting applicants needs to remember that they have a calling card on the market. A transparent and responsive application process is also indispensable. “In the age of e-commerce, people are used to receiving feedback quickly.”

Alternative offerings, like flexible working hours, home office and part-time working arrangements also make companies more attractive. “Companies have to adapt to the demands of generations Y and Z,” says Brünjes. Many applicants from these generations find it too tedious to fill out complex online applications. “I think there are promising new alternatives out there, such as giving applicants the option of just uploading their CV, and following up with a face-to-face pitch.”

The role of social media

Engels has identified another major trend: In Germany, law firms are initiating their recruiting efforts at an even earlier stage, particularly in locations such as Frankfurt and Munich, where there is fierce competition for qualified applicants. DLA Piper is also trying to make first contact with potential candidates while they are still at university, for example by offering their Summer School Program for interns. “Good lawyers often attract attention during their internship, so it is our goal to get our name in the hat as soon as possible,” says Engels. However, the firm does not use social media for their employer branding.

The situation is very different at ProSiebenSat.1. The leading German media group is relying heavily on social media, constantly trying out new things and trying to remain accessible to its followers. The company has set up career channels on Instagram and Facebook and makes frequent use of moving image content.

“We use this to offer a glimpse behind the scenes, talk about everyday work in various formats and give our colleagues a face,” emphasizes Alexander von Voss, chief legal officer at ProSiebenSat.1. “You can interact directly with followers, get in touch and answer questions.”

Despite these efforts, it is not always easy for the media group to recruit qualified lawyers. “The fact is that many lawyers still think of us as just a television company. They aren’t aware of how many exciting topics we work on in the company, like our joint projects with our M&A department, or our subsidiary NuCom Group, which pools all of ProSiebenSat.1’s commercial enterprises,” says von Voß.

He adds: “We have identified universities that are particularly relevant for our legal work, organize joint workshops and guest lectures, and offer students the opportunity to visit our company. This allows us to make contact with the next generations of lawyers while they are still in law school.”

The company also places special emphasis on giving their lawyers a voice so that they can report on their personal experience of day-to-day work in the company. The company lawyers are given a platform to share their thoughts in various areas of the company’s employee branding, for example on the career website’s blog. “Our goal is to make ProSiebenSat.1 an employer you can relate to and also to demonstrate the diversity of the work we have to offer,” says von Voß. 

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