Recruiting On-Ramp Employees

Today’s blog is courtesy of Rebecca McNeill, a founder of McNeill Baur in Cambridge, MA.  She addresses the importance of recruiting on-ramp employees.  I enthusiastically support these initiatives and the work of the OnRamp Fellowship.

Making the Case for Law Firm Recruiting of On-Ramp Employees

Law firms can access wider talent pools by creating on ramps for attorneys and support staff who have left the work force to care for growing families or for other reasons. While many law firms, including ours, offer part-time employment, sometimes an employee, such as a working parent, leaves the work force for a period of time. Whether working parents lean in, balance it all, or take a break from their careers, employers should cast a wide recruiting net. The number of open positions in law firms and corporate legal departments shows that finding and retaining legal talent presents a major challenge.

Our 100% woman-owned, life science patent firm has had tremendous success on-ramping. Our 28-person firm employs three on-rampers who had stayed home with children for from one year to more than a decade. By remembering on-ramp candidates and making some modest changes, law firms like ours can improve on-ramping success. While some of these suggestions apply only to attorneys, other suggestions apply to staff, as well.

  • First, law firms can consider how they advertise positions and recruit candidates, whether for attorneys or staff members. As a first step, each of our job postings indicates that we welcome on-ramp employees. By warmly welcoming parents returning to the workforce, law firms open the door for those applicants. We do not penalize applicants for gaps in their resumes and, when applicable, we talk to them in the interview process about how they can refresh their skills and catch up on legal developments. We also actively target our networks to connect with parents who are home with families and invite them to consider reentering the work force.
  • Second, law firms should carefully revisit part-time employment policies as many on-ramp candidates desire a part-time schedule. Many firms have part-time options, but some offer only a few set options (1200 hours, 1600 hours, for example). Our firm has offered more flexibility to part-time employees in setting their own billable hour goal. Additionally, if part-time employees exceed their billable hour goal, we do not penalize them for initially choosing a lower hour goal. An attorney who selects a 1300-hours target, but actually works 1425 hours makes the same amount as if they had set 1425 as their original goal. We also compensate attorneys for every hour worked over their target, as opposed to only awarding bonuses on 50- or 100-hour increments. This encourages part-time attorneys to choose a billable hour goal that allows for intermittent challenges that many parents face, such as the winter when all the kids get strep throat (sequentially). Valuing each hour a part-time employee works equally to the same hour a full-time employee works helps demonstrate our commitment to part-time employees.
  • Third, law firms should carefully tailor assignments for on-ramp employees to meet their skills, interests, and time commitments. Our firm has both large and small patent prosecution portfolios. Giving a part-time employee a small portfolio, but letting them manage all of the work for a small client can offer more career satisfaction than taking only part of a large portfolio. Firm can also offer flexibility to employees contending with school vacation schedules by offering project work like opinions and application writing that will wrap up before the attorney needs to be out of the office.
  • Finally, law firms must recognize that not every smart, talented, and committed attorney wants a rainmaker role or their own book of business. Firms must reevaluate their up-or-out approach. Our firm has committed to retaining employed attorneys for the long term whether or not they develop their own book of business. Even though we do not set limits on our part-time employees, our firm offers long-term non-partnership roles at the firm for attorneys who prefer to serve in a supportive role.

Reaching on-ramp candidates can improve law firm diversity and allow access to new talent pools. Offering on-ramp candidates a way to reenter the work force on their terms also improves attorney happiness and retention.

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Thought For The Day: A kind word is like a spring day. RUSSIAN PROVERB

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Attention Women Lawyers: Equal Pay Day

I am a day late in recognizing Equal Pay Day.  Regretfully because it is an important day.

If you are not sure what Equal Pay Day is all about, here is a blog from the past to help you out.  Although it is now two years after this blog was written, the statistics have not changed much.  Women are still not being paid equally for equal work.

Equal Pay Day — Yes, It Still Is an Issue for Women Lawyers

I also want to make it clear that flexible hours — when you do the work — has nothing to do with whether you do the work.  So, the reader, who misinterpreted my statement in an earlier blog on equal pay, should stand assured that I am 100% behind the concepts of flexible schedules and telecommuting.  Work is work.  No matter where it is performed and when.  Unfortunately, however, not everyone sees it that way, and I always acknowledge the other side in preparation for the debate.

Hopefully I will be able to report more progress in future years.  The wheels of progress grind slowly.

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Salary/Benefits Negotiations for All Young Lawyers

Last week I attended the Georgetown University Women’s Forum, an expanded version  of the Georgetown Women’s Law Forum.  As a Georgetown Law grad, I am a big fan of this conference.  Keep your eye out for it next year!  You don’t have to be a Hoya to attend.

Here are some tips that I picked up on salary/benefits negotiations, and they apply to all young lawyers.  Think of it as your Ten Step Method to Greater Job Satisfaction.

1.  Set the stage.  In preparation for a meeting to discuss more salary or benefits, ask your supervisor for time to discuss your career development.  Thank him/her for taking the time for this important discussion and compliment past mentoring efforts if possible.

Then get prepared!

2.  Know your value.  Begin the conversation with your pitch so that you accomplish your goal for the meeting.  Focus on your accomplishments and the skills that you bring to the organization.  Include seminars and conferences you have attended, papers you have published, and initiatives you have helped launch.

Numbers matter, so create data.  Everything counts, but do not fall into the pattern of taking on responsibilities just for the reporting value.  Always be strategic and learn to say no to things that are not you.  Be authentic.

Practice, practice, practice your presentation — out loud or with partner.  Welcome comments and criticism to improve the product.

3.  Know your target salary.  Determine a salary range, both high and low, and know your walk away point.

Do your research.  Comparable firms and office locations are key.  Firms pay different salaries in different locations depending on the market and cost of living analyses.

Make the ask.  More money.  A new title.  A new responsibility to enhance your career.  All of these are important, but you HAVE TO ASK.

4. Know what benefits are important to you.  Understand that sometimes benefits can be more important than salary.  It is all about what improves your individual situation.  Examples of benefits to consider are:

  • Flex time and commuting;
  • Health insurance;
  • Life and disability insurance;
  • Retirement investment plans;
  • Medical, personal and family leave;
  • Tuition reimbursement;
  • Vacation time; and
  • Work-life balance.

5.  Have a strategy going into salary/benefits negotiations.  Be positive and flexible, and don’t got too personal.  Treat it like a business discussion.

Deflect some questions that you do not feel comfortable answering.  Salary history, for example, is against the law in five states.  If an application form asks for that information, put N/A if you do not think the answer benefits you.

If you are asked about salary expectation, answer with a salary range and follow up with your desire to learn more about the position and responsibilities.

Or turn the question around, as in, “What do you usually pay for this position?”

6.  Timing is critical.  The best times to ask for more salary or improved benefits is after a big win or a very successful event or when you know a new budget is being rolled out.

Do not wait until an annual review and lose the advantage of the moment.

Do not ask during a crunch time in your business or when your boss is under stress either at office or at home.

7.  Be patient.  Give time for a thoughtful response.  Be ready for the back and forth.  Be prepared for counteroffers.

8.  Anticipate possible responses.  You may hear:

  • “We don’t have the budget.”  Your response could be, “How about increasing my salary by half that amount and talk again in six months.”  A classic negotiation technique.  Half a loaf often is better than none and might work for you.
  • OR, “You would be the highest paid member of the team at the salary you are suggesting.”  You may want to respond by distinguishing your accomplishments from those of the rest of the team.
  • OR, “Is there anything besides more money that would be important to you?”  If more money is out of the question, ask for a benefit that does not come out of your department budget—- like an educational benefit.  Try not to leave without gaining something to enhance your position.

9.  Get it in writing.  Don’t risk your conversation getting lost in the shuffle or not being communicated to others when your supervisor leaves.

10.  Become comfortable with the process.  You will be using it throughout your career.

I hope this is helpful.  I know that it would have been helpful to me so many years ago.

Good luck negotiating for yourself!

 

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Thought For April Fool’s Day: Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this. HENRY DAVID THOREAU

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