Open Communication on Flex Is Vital to Recruiting the Next Generation
This article, by Manar Morales, President & CEO of the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, was published in the June 2017 issue of the NALP Bulletin. We very much appreciated the opportunity to provide this guest article and we are reprinting it here on our blog with permission from NALP.
Recruiting the top talent from law schools used to be relatively straightforward. Large law firms enticed students with glossy brochures, “swag bags” of gifts, and six-figure starting salaries. The top payers got the top recruits. In 2017, the equation is not so simple. It’s clear that the new generation of law school graduates is looking for more than a big paycheck. In fact, recent surveys show that compensation isn’t at the top of the list of what they’re looking for in potential employers.
Today’s law school graduates want a firm that shares their generation’s unique values. Millennials want a firm culture that supports corporate social responsibility and pro bono work, teamwork, professional development, mentorship, and, in particular, flexible work options. Even if they don’t need flex right after graduation, they view open communication on flex as a sign that the firm has a culture that supports a work-life balance.
Millennials are the largest and most diverse generation in the workforce today. Because of the relatively small size of their predecessor generation, Generation X, law firms will need to recruit more millennials to fill their partnership ranks in the foreseeable future. In fact, by 2020 millennials will comprise 46% of the workforce. It’s now more important than ever for firms to evolve and address the need for flex and engage this new generation.
While millennials seem to be driving the open conversations on flex, it’s clear that everyone wants it, and everyone needs it at some point in their career. In fact, baby boomers are staying in the workforce longer and are using flex to slowly phase out rather than retire completely. Generation X is now the “sandwich generation” that needs flex to care for children as well as aging parents.
When firms don’t have a formal flex policy (or have one but have not fully embraced it), they often face unnecessary, regrettable talent losses. We also know that talent recruitment and retention can be improved by offering holistic flex options including reduced hours, telecommuting, full-time flex, annualized hours, compressed work weeks, and job sharing. These options must be available to everyone and implemented without bias — regardless of gender, race, age, family, and marital status. More importantly, the communications about flex to current and prospective employees must be clear and consistent across the firm.
In addition to having written flexible work policies, firms must be effective in communicating the business case for flexible work and the support of the program from the highest levels of the firm. To be successful firms need to provide education on flex stigma and identify a flex coordinator to actively manage and monitor lawyers working flexible schedules and measure the progress of the program. A growing number of firms are successfully implementing their flex programs and reaping the benefits of increased recruitment and decreased attrition.
Two Perspectives on Using Flex as a Recruitment Tool
We recently spoke with Kori Carew, Director of Strategic Diversity Initiatives at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, and Kia Scipio, Associate Director of the Office of Career Strategy at the Georgetown University Law Center, to hear two perspectives on how law firms are using flex to recruit and advance the next generation of blue-chip attorneys and how law students are leveraging their need for flex.
One Firm’s Successful Strategy for Communicating about Flex
Shook, Hardy & Bacon is one example of a firm that is strategically marketing flex as a top talent recruitment tool. “At Shook, we understand that a big salary is not enough. We highlight the other perks such as flex and work-life integration,” said Carew.
“We make sure that there is one consistent message across the board — we support flex and we believe in flex,” she emphasized. This message is a consistent part of all of Shook’s written materials, its website, and its training of attorney recruitment teams. “We want everyone at Shook to be able to convey the same message comfortably and confidently about flex opportunities available at the firm,” she added.
Like Shook, firms should align what they do with what they say by collaborating on flex strategies and culture in all departments. Firms should also provide training throughout the year to ensure everyone is embracing flex and communicating the firm’s commitment to it. Additionally, they should have a commitment plan that links compensation for partners and associates to their support of diversity and inclusion, including flex.
To avoid individual bias and allow candidates the opportunity to see a true cross-section of the firm’s attorneys, 12 to 14 people are involved in Shook’s call-back process. The firm also prepares interviewers with “cheat sheets” about the firm and has regular discussions on the proper way to field questions related to flex.
“It’s important to ensure a consistent message from leadership down to the recruitment team regarding the firm’s flex policy,” Carew stressed. “Our biggest selling point is showing candidates attorneys and partners on our leadership committees who are working flexible schedules and are successful,” she added.
Students Still Hesitant to Ask About Flex
Whether or not they are willing to come right out and ask an interviewer, today’s law school graduates want to know about a firm’s flex policy and culture. Kia Scipio counsels Georgetown students on their job-seeking strategies. “Many students fear that asking about flex during an interview will be held against them,” she explained. “While students shouldn’t be ashamed to ask about flex opportunities, we advise them to wait until they have an offer on the table before asking directly,” she added. Many students will wait to discuss flex as part of the long-term discussion on career path and sustainability.
Today’s students are savvy and do most of their research on a firm’s culture through media outlets like Vault, Above the Law, or through personal contacts made as a summer associate. Scipio also advises students to form relationships with young alumni for a first-hand picture of the culture of a firm. Graduates can freely (and comfortably) ask young alumni questions such as: What’s the typical day like? Do you work on weekends? What’s the billable hour climate like? How do you balance work and parenting? Have you achieved career success while working an alternative schedule? Can you relocate to another office within the firm?
Scipio explained how the law school’s Office of Career Strategy works hard to form and maintain relationships with alumni so students will have this resource. The career services professionals try to “keep their fingers on the pulse” of the industry to see where people are going and why they might be leaving a particular firm to assist current students with their specific career decisions.
Additionally, Scipio stresses the importance of her office maintaining relationships with law firms and staying up to date on how firms are evolving and changing. “Students are looking for a demonstrated commitment to diversity, and they want firms to showcase their commitment to these issues and potential candidates through relationships with the school’s affinity groups and career services professionals,” she stated.
Students are also looking for personal outreach from the firms and want to be kept informed during the application process. “If firms can’t communicate directly with the students during the application process, they should at least communicate with the career services office about the student’s status,” she advised. Students want to see a track record of commitment and open communication with the school. “Transparency in the recruitment process is key,” she emphasized.
Scipio also pointed out that not all firms are as progressive and supportive of flex as Shook. “If more employers were as forward thinking as Shook, then maybe we would be less hesitant to counsel students not to ask directly about flex,” she added.
Communication Between Firms and CSOs: Key to Recruitment Success
So what’s needed for all firms to successfully use flex to recruit their next generation of leaders? Ultimately an open dialog between firms, CSOs, and students is critical to the process. Candid conversations about issues of importance to today’s graduates would significantly help students know which firms have a culture with their shared values. Firms should also share their internal training messages regarding flexibility and diversity with CSOs and students. Finally, employer visibility on campus and support of relevant affinity groups are also key to demonstrating the firm’s commitment to diversity and flexibility.
Any discussions of flexibility should be reinforced with data including what percentages of lawyers are working flex and advancing at the firm. Firms should ensure that everyone involved in the recruitment process knows what they offer, how it works, and how the firm’s culture supports the initiative. Firms can internally and externally “speak success” by proudly publicizing the accomplishments of their flex attorneys as a true testament to their evolving culture.
Contact the Alliance for more information on how we can help you create, implement or communicate your flex policy to improve your recruitment and retention of top talent. Contact NALP for information on membership and subscriptions.