Debunking The “Science” Of Law Firm Recruitment & Employee Incentives

According to Samuel Arbesman, author of The Half-Life of Facts, science is a ‘terribly human endeavor.’ Flaws exist because of typos, attempts to standardize, and attempts to generalize about facts.

Let’s take, for example, the mantra that children around the world are told: “eat your spinach.” This is because spinach is high in vitamins and minerals vital for the human body. While this is still true, it may not be the power-veggie parents and Popeye are led to believe.

“In 1870, German chemist Erich von Wolf analyzed the iron content of green vegetables and accidentally misplaced a decimal point when transcribing data from his notebook. As a result, spinach was reported to contain a tremendous amount of iron—35 milligrams per serving, not 3.5 milligrams (the true measured value),” recounts David A. Shaywitz for the Wall Street Journal in his review of Arbesman’s book.

“While the error was eventually corrected in 1937, the legend of spinach’s nutritional power had already taken hold, one reason that studio executives chose it as the source of Popeye’s vaunted strength.”

Unlike the stalwart sailor, business leaders can’t adapt a one-size-fits-all spinach strategy when it comes to hiring employees or dolling out incentives.

Job candidates of different genders or ages, for example, look for different things in a job. Also, tenured employees will be motivated differently than newly-hired ones.

With this in mind, what law firm perks will attract the best people?

A recent survey ‘2012 HR Beat: A Survey of the Pulse of Today’s Global Workforce,’ which analyzes results from 1,500 hiring managers and professionals internationally, aims to identify what matters most to employees and job candidates across age, geography, and gender, and—by doing so—resolve the above question.

In a nutshell, women want flexibility while men want money. Surprisingly, Generation X (not Generation “me”, i.e., the Millenials) is the most demanding when it comes to flexibility in work schedules. And finally, Millenials—those born after 1977—are looking for workplaces with mentors and training programs.

If your firm is looking to recruit younger employees, best stick to social media.

At least, all of this is what Karie Willyerd, coauthor of The 2020 Workplace and contributor to the Harvard Business Review, will lead your firm to believe.

So, if knowledge is power, what can your firm learn from Willyerd and her survey results? Willyerd suggests in her article, “Match the Perk to the Person If You Want Great Talent”:

  1. Provide choice. Don’t fax over a once-size-fits-all employment contract. Ask what potential employees want, and look to tailor your engagement or offer letter.
  2. Enhance your ability to reach candidates, who are increasingly online and on a mobile device. It’s not just the Millenials who make use of social media. Your firm will only find the best candidates with the best possible search methods, and recruiting tools that allow automatic individualization in marketing to candidates online at increasingly affordable rates.
  3. Conduct a workforce analysis. Diversify your firm and find out which applicant pool (which generation) to target.
  4. Evaluate your benefits and build a recruiting strategy to match.

It should be clear by now that the marketplace for law is changing. There’s no such thing as “the best strategy” anymore. There’s just the right strategy at the right time.

Be weary of any expert or managing partner who talks about the “facts” of recruitment strategy.

There are few measurable facts these days. Even the height of Mt. Everest isn’t verifiable (colliding continental plates lead to erosion, which wears the mountain down. “The mountain even moves laterally at a rate of about six centimeters a year, thus making both its height and location a ‘mesofact’—a slowly changing piece of knowledge,” summarizes David A. Shaywitz in his Wall Street Journal review of Arbesman’s book).

“Far better than learning facts is learning how to adapt to changing facts,” writes Arbesman (via Wall Street Journal). “Stop memorizing things . . . memories can be outsourced to the cloud.”

“In other words: In a world of information flux, it isn’t what you know that counts—it is how efficiently you can refresh,” Shaywitze concludes in his book review.

For attorneys and firms, following the same cautionary vein, the business of law is an equally terribly human endeavor. So, stop standardizing. Customize. And adapt company perks to your people.



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