Definition of unforced error

: a missed shot or lost point (as in tennis) that is entirely a result of the player’s own blunder and not because of the opponent’s skill or effort.

The labor market is tight, with businesses nationwide struggling to find quality talent. There simply aren’t enough highly qualified employees to meet the demand.

The legal market is no different. Virtually every major law firm across the country is searching for talent, creating increased competition between firms for top talent. Despite this, too many firms approach recruiting haphazardly. They fail to have a game plan for finding and hiring candidates. As a result, they often make unintended mistakes during the process. Additionally, many firms still think the biggest concern is for the candidate to impress them, not the other way around.

Firms need to put their best foot forward to “win” the best talent. Yet time and again, I see firms making completely unforced errors that squander their chances at landing the candidate they want or need.

For example, I very frequently meet with attorneys who are not proactively “on the market.” However, they tell me that if the right opportunity came their way, they would be open to hearing more—and potentially even changing firms. Yet when I broach the subject with firms looking for new hires, I frequently face an immediate misunderstanding, or unforced error. The firms will automatically assume that the only reason an attorney would want to talk is that the attorney is proactively looking to change jobs, not that the attorney is interested in merely more information or an introductory meeting to determine if it’s the right opportunity. As a result, the two parties have completely different expectations, and the firm may miss out on a top candidate.

To get the best attorneys, firms need to step up their game. Below are 8 unforced errors that firms can easily avoid to increase their prospect of finding the perfect fit:

Error #1: Treating the candidates as if they are applying for a position at your firm.

Most top candidates are in a very good situation. They are sitting down with your firm because they might consider leaving their current situation. Asking the question “Why do you want to join our firm?” or “Why do you want to leave your firm?” not only won’t spark an insightful answer—it will likely offend the potential candidate.

Error #2: Thinking a good culture is good enough.

Pretty much every candidate wants a good cultural fit at their firm and it’s very important.  Good culture tends to be the glue that keeps an attorney at their firm.  That being said, it’s extremely rare that someone will join a new firm for the culture alone.  Even more important, candidates want to know that joining another firm will benefit them personally, whether that’s being able to accelerate the growth of their book of businesses or earning higher compensation.

Error #3: Failing to give timely feedback after the interview

When you fail to communicate openly with candidates, they’re liable to presume the worst. Failure to give timely feedback makes candidates think the interview didn’t go well—or maybe even that your firm is not interested in them at all.

Error #4: Not communicating with the candidate for long periods of time.

Oftentimes the gap between the initial meeting and the candidate actually joining the firm is very large. If you can make this period shorter, do it. However, sometimes delays and longer processes are unavoidable. Make sure that you keep regular contact with your candidate, perhaps by inviting them to optional monthly lunches or breakfasts or sending them updates every few weeks about the firm while reaffirming your interest. Few things make a candidate feel more valued than being remembered.

Error #5: Not being willing to meet a great candidate on a “no expectations” basis

Landing top candidates—who are all well sought after—takes time. “No expectations” meetings provide the opportunity to sell your firm and make a good impression. Even if the candidate ends up somewhere else, you at least have another attorney in the marketplace who thinks highly of your firm.

Error #6: Not having all participants in the interview prepped and on the same page.

Candidates will see a lack of preparation as a sign that your firm is not all that competent. If the interview was frustrating, how will working there be?

Error #7: When the “front person” doesn’t have the personality to sell the firm well.

The main point of contact for candidates should be personable, knowledgeable about the firm, and able to talk up all the great things about where that person works.

Error #8: If working with a recruiter, failing to arm the recruiter with information.

Recruiters don’t ask questions or request help for nothing. Generally, we ask specific questions because we are trying to sell your firm to a candidate with specific needs. Getting those answers makes it more likely that the candidate will choose your firm.


Every one of these errors can be avoided with a little proactivity, planning, and foresight.

Ultimately, the candidate you begin to recruit may not be the right fit for your firm, or your firm might not be the best choice for that candidate, but you’ll never know if the process ends before it has a chance to begin.  Avoiding these errors doesn’t mean your work is done, but it does provide a path to greater consistency and success in recruiting the candidates you want.

We’ve focused mostly on the “do nots” here but stay tuned for an upcoming article on the “do’s”!

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