The Hidden Costs Of Being Too Picky: Advice For Firms, Associates & Clients

Many Americans are out of work in the recession, but attorneys, specifically, are experiencing an overwhelming over-saturation of the job market.

At the same time, myriad employers are complaining about not finding the right fit for their firm. Companies protest that there is a skills-mismatch between computer illiterate older candidates versus young inexperienced applicants in today’s technologically-evolving world.

Meanwhile, recent graduates are refusing jobs. There’s a desire to “love what you do” despite the fact that there’s not enough to do in our suffering economy.

Finally, clients complain about high fees and billing structure for their legal representation; and yet, there’s plenty of competition for legal services on the market.

So, we ask, who is being too picky here? The employee, the employer, or the client? And, who has the most to lose in this confusing situation?

“I think it’s important to remember that employers control everything about the process. They define the job, they create the requirements for the job, then they decide how the word gets out to people, recruiting-wise,” explains Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton in Forbes.

“They set the rate of pay, which helps determine how attractive the job is, and then they handle the selection part where they look at the applicants and sort them out.”

The power of employers is at the heart of this problem. Employers believe that in a recessed economy, they can afford to be picky. As a result, many job openings remain unfilled.

“That’s certainly part of the problem—that the internal accounting systems in most organizations are so poor that they can’t tell what it costs them to keep a position vacant,” says Cappelli.

“They easily know how much it costs to employ somebody, but they can’t measure that employee’s contributions. So, in most companies, given their accounting systems, it actually looks like they’re saving money by keeping positions vacant. If you think that’s the story, then you’re obviously in no rush to hire. I think it starts there, and that’s clearly not a good thing for society or for employers.”

What’s another problem? Being too stingy with salaries.

Price must meet demand. So, if more attorneys are looking for work, the salaries that greet them must be lowered. Fair enough.

But, according to survey by Manpower, eleven percent of polled employers said they can’t get people to accept the job at the wage offered. Cappelli says, it’s not a mismatch of skills, these firms are just being cheap.

Attorneys have expensive student loans, families, and other financial obligations. Plus, they have a set of unique and specialized skills to offer. With a 50-plus hour workweek in store, if your firm can’t meet the minimum wage requirement of the job, people will prefer to stay at home (or start their own business and compete for your clients).

Employers, forgetting to invest in your own staff is hurting your firm.

Employers these days have forgotten about paying their dues. That’s right, bosses and firms are obligated to train their employees. Although it may be ideal to hire somebody with previous experience, it’s likely cheaper to hire a recent graduate and train them, instead.

Employees, for your turn, you are too picky about finding the “right” job.

Employees shouldn’t accept positions where they simply “pay their dues.” Employees should hold out for that job whose training does, in fact, pay dividends in experience. Nevertheless, employees—like employers—should count training as a benefit. It costs the employer money and it gives the employee skills. Plus, despite the well-known difficulties of a recession, being unemployed for long doesn’t look good on a resume.

If a job offer provides a lower-than-average wage but a higher-than-average training opportunity, don’t discount the latter—it is equivalent to payment.

Being too picky about salary without considering the perks of training is to the detriment of employees. Mentorship and training by experienced, older employees is invaluable—and unattainable if you start your own company directly out of college. Self-employment or lengthy unemployment may leave an individual with little options in the future–the hidden cost of a picky grad.

Finally, clients, recently, have the feeling they’re being cheated by law firms. High billable hours and competition among firms should benefit the client, right?

Unfortunately, clients often want to have their cake and eat it too. Clients want law firms to produce innovative work and billing schemes, and also compete for their business. Businesses should become more proactive when looking for representation.

Not satisfied with your current firm? You risk being left without representation at all. In this environment, that’s something entrepreneurs can’t afford. No lawyer is always worse than keeping your current lawyer.

Law firms should adapt with the economic recession and remain strategic about their hiring practices. This includes being open to client suggestions—or, at least, making it clear that suggestions by both employees and clients are welcome.

In any job, there are opportunities and then there are challenges. The key is acknowledging both. The truth is, in the best or the worst of times, it never pays to be too picky. Firms, associates, and clients should each compromise and find a middle-ground. Mutual gain is the way to achieve long-term success.

-WB

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