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H. Ward Classen – Hiring Smart: Creating a Long Term Benefit for Legal Departments

The large number of highly qualified, competent attorneys seeking in-house positions makes today a “buyers” market. Legal department hiring managers should take advantage of the large number of qualified candidates to find the one who best fits their employer’s needs.

Too often, the temptation is to follow the path of least resistance and hire a friend, an industry acquaintance or a candidate who can start immediately instead of undertaking a comprehensive, strategic search. In addition to advertising and posting the position electronically, the hiring manager should publicize the position with outside counsel and industry groups.

Often, the best candidate is not readily apparent. Undue emphasis on an academic pedigree, while ignoring professional experiences, motivation and interpersonal skills, may eliminate many qualified candidates.

The ideal candidate may not have graduated from the most prestigious law school or worked for the largest law firm, yet she or he has a record of strong academic and professional achievement.

To identify the most-qualified candidates, a search should include those whose backgrounds or experience at first glance may not seem relevant for the position. Smart, diligent lawyers with a desire to learn can quickly acquire a needed skill set. In the past, I have hired litigators, real estate lawyers and collection attorneys for software licensing positions. Their desire to learn overcame their lack of familiarity with the practice area. They became strong contributors and their broad-based skills proved to be assets, not detriments.

In one memorable interview, I asked a candidate if he had experience in negotiating software and technology agreements. The candidate, who ultimately became one of our strongest performers, sheepishly replied that he had once reviewed a single nondisclosure agreement. He was surprised when he was hired, but I explained that we were seeking a candidate with innate intelligence, a desire to learn and strong interpersonal skills.

Selecting an employee based on familiarity has many drawbacks that can, potentially, impact the legal department’s performance and morale. Hiring without conducting a comprehensive, open-minded search subjects the manager to criticism that the candidate was hired for reasons other than their qualifications. Furthermore, hiring outside of an existing relationship avoids potential problems if the new hire does not meet the employer’s expectations and the manager is forced to address performance issues.

Employers who take the time to identify the proper candidate and avoid the temptation to make the easy decision will be richly rewarded with a lawyer who is a strong performer.

Mr. Classen is Deputy General Counsel of Computer Sciences Corporation. The views expressed herein are those of Mr. Classen and not those of Computer Sciences Corporation.