How Midsize Firms Can Land Big Law Refugees

During the height of last year’s war for talent, AmLaw 50 firms wooed the country’s top associates with promises of flexible work arrangements and unprecedented compensation packages. Unfortunately those young lawyers are now experiencing just how quickly their leverage can disappear when the market takes a turn. Firms that hired aggressively in 2021 are reconsidering their staffing needs, and the layoffs have already begun.

As a recent Bloomberg Law article notes, this shift should be welcome news for midsize firms who could not compete in last year’s bidding wars. They now have the chance to snap up some excellent talent, and their main competitors will be similarly situated firms. Of course compensation will still be top-of-mind for candidates, but they may now be interested in additional factors, such as workplace culture, when deciding where to build their career.

Legal marketers play an important role in the effort to land these newly available associates. Here are some ways you can communicate the benefits of joining a “smaller but mighty” firm:

Share your lawyers’ stories

Does your firm have particularly strong retention rates? Or qualitative data on lawyers who have built interesting and fulfilling careers with your team? Find ways to compile and feature these stories internally and externally, across your website, social channels and in other recruiting materials. Associates looking for a place to land will be keenly interested in examples of success and happiness outside Big Law.

Showcase training and mentoring opportunities

Hands-on experience and more client face time are two of the strongest benefits to working for a smaller firm. Whether you have formal mentoring and training programs in place, or just a culture of ensuring associates gain access to meaningful work, find ways to communicate that information to job candidates. What can they look forward to learning at your firm?

Put your values front and center

Surveys of young millennial and Gen Z lawyers indicate that finding work with meaning and mission is more important than ever, and to compete for these candidates you must address it. Posting a values statement is something every firm should plan to do, mostly because the exercise of creating that statement (assuming leaders buy in and everyone involved makes an authentic contribution) can remind everyone of the values that should guide decision making across the business. While we can all think of examples of empty statements (often made by firms that fall far short of living up to them), it is possible to communicate values in a meaningful way and back them up with action.

Clearly communicate policies on flexibility

Following the Big Law “back-to-the-office” discourse in 2022 has been amusing and sometimes frustrating. Some firms took a hard line and demanded that everyone come back — only to find that most lawyers with any clout flexed by continuing to work from home anyway. Other firms claimed they were fully embracing remote work but made no plan to integrate lawyers working remotely into the office culture or ensure equity across different kinds of workplace arrangements (and guess which lawyers they laid off first). There is no one perfect answer to this challenge, but wiser firms understand that the days of a mandate to be in the office full time are (probably) gone, and the benefits of flexibility far outweigh its costs. How is your firm approaching work location and schedule these days? What kind of family leave or caregiver benefits do you offer? Make sure your policies are clear to candidates considering a position with you.

Brag about your geographic location

Associates who focused on New York or DC in their first job hunt may now be considering different priorities, such as moving closer to family in other parts of the country or reining in their cost of living. “Secondary” geographic markets have a lot to offer in the way of affordability and quality of life. Make sure to feature what makes your city special, and why a candidate might want to consider a move (especially if they can create a hybrid arrangement).