How to change law firms during the COVID-19 pandemic

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With so much uncertainty, there may be an assumption that attorneys are less likely to consider switching firms than in years past. However, while the hiring process may be unusual this year, attorneys are still looking to switch firms for the same professional and personal reasons that convince attorneys to make a move in any other year. With many firms operating largely virtually, the interview process and the transition to another firm nonetheless can be intimidating. Below are some tips for lateral candidates in searching for and integrating into new firms.

Interviewing while working from home

The typical practice of meeting with a series of attorneys at the offices of the prospective firm may be impossible due to social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders.

The interview process, however, serves as the most effective opportunity for both law firms and lawyers to do their due diligence and make informed decisions for need and fit. Lawyers get a sense of the law firm’s environs and culture through interviews, and law firms are able to review the candidate to get a sense of whether they’re a “good fit.” The lack of physicality can create barriers that interfere with the ability to get a feel of the firm and lawyers.

Consequently, some firms are conducting more interviews of each candidate than they typically would to compensate for the lack of in-person meetings. A greater number of interviews by a broader group of people may allow the interviewees to get a better feel of the firm, and likewise, law firms can learn more about candidates.

Many lawyers in this situation are taking unique steps to prepare for interviews in the virtual setting. Just as with other professional video meetings, it is helpful to review surroundings to make sure the background is appropriate for the setting. For interviewees, the virtual interview may be a basis to assess the candidate’s judgment. Good lighting, an appropriate background, and strong connectivity may impact the interviewer’s perception of the interviewee. It is also helpful to plan ahead to reduce the likelihood of disturbances. Inform family members or housemates of the interview schedule and remember to remain professional when addressing unexpected interruptions. Even though the interview is not in-person, full business-formal professional attire is still highly recommended.

A virtual interview is still an interview. Although candidates may generally be experiencing “Zoom fatigue,” it is important to appear engaged, energetic, and to showcase one’s personality. This is especially true since, at least for the near future, many or all of an attorney’s interactions with clients and colleagues will likely occur through video conferences. Also, remember to remain alert and professional and avoid other on-screen distractions. Lawyers may find it helpful to practice with a friend to get feedback on how well the candidate is presenting virtually.

The onboarding process

Lateral hires may find it difficult to acclimate to a new firm given that, during the pandemic, they may not be going into the office or actually interacting with new colleagues in person. To help ease the transition process, some firms are using unique remote training and integration steps. Firms may consider coordinating the start date of new hires to build a sense of camaraderie among those new personnel. This kind of planning can help to create a bond among new hires and serve as a way to reduce any feelings of isolation.

In addition, some firms may implement comprehensive training and video meetings with different colleagues across the practice groups and firm. Firms may anticipate the needs of laterals and provide new hires with a directory of individuals that can provide assistance.

Firms can create a plan to ensure a smooth transition, even while new employees may continue to work from home. Many firms have created an onboarding portal that provides access to forms and directories. Firms may prepare and deliver office supplies and a technology package that includes a firm laptop, mobile device, computer monitors, and/or docking station. If the firm grants limited access to the office, the firm may provide a building identification badge and assign a physical office working space. Finally, laterals should feel encouraged to take advantage of any provided resources and request any additional help.

Meeting new colleagues

The lack of in-person firm events and daily face-to-face interactions may make it difficult for new hires to develop a connection with their peers. Firms may consider implementing mentorship or associate buddy programs and virtual small group welcome lunches to allow for an easier transition. Virtual conferences and happy hours held exclusively for those who have joined the firm within the last year can provide an opportunity for new hires to congregate.

Firms may also initiate regularly scheduled firm-wide meetings or virtual chatrooms with associates and superiors to foster business relationships and a rapport that may be difficult to develop from a distance. Laterals can also be proactive and reach out to others in a direct way beyond these firm sponsored events. In this regard, laterals may consider using video conferences to communicate with new colleagues (instead of simply phone and email), so that they can get to know more faces.

Give it time

While lateral hires may be eager to move to their new firm and to hit the ground running, the reality of the pandemic is that many firms and lawyers are facing unprecedented challenges.

Many firms may not be used to conducting a remote hiring process and others may have concerns about what the future will bring (and what economic pressures the firm may face in the future). Thus, candidates can try to exercise patience as it may take more time than usual to advance through the hiring process.

In addition, once hired, it may be more difficult to meet new colleagues as many are dealing with personal challenges that limit their ability to socialize or to participate in non-client related events. As a result, while lateral hires can certainly still make significant contributions, it may take longer than usual for candidates to integrate themselves into their new firm.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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