Recruiting effectively
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Administrator
Recruitment is one of the most important management activities you can undertake. Here are some top tips on getting it right.
Open and fair procedures
If your practice is accredited to the Specialist Quality Mark (SQM), you must comply with requirement D1.4 for an ‘open’ recruitment process, which is defined as ‘the job is offered to the most suitable individual, on the basis of an objective and consistent assessment against requirements that you set relating to the role’s key tasks and responsibilities as well as any relevant personal attributes that you seek’. Lexcel v6 requirement 4.5 also requires ‘clear and transparent selection’ procedures. Best practice is to advertise vacancies to attract the widest field of candidates.
Lexcel requirement 4.4 calls for practices to ‘list the tasks to be undertaken by all personnel within the practice usually in the form of a role profile’. It makes sense to review job descriptions and person specifications (the skills, experience and knowledge required for a post) before conducting a recruitment exercise to ensure that you are recruiting for the job you need the person to do in future rather than the way it has been done in the past.
In addition, equality and diversity requirements set out in the SQM, Lexcel and the Equality Act 2010 mean thinking about the new role and designing a fair and reasonable application process for candidates. These requirements do not necessarily mean that every vacancy has to be filled following public advertisement. Sometimes suitable candidates can come to a practice’s attention through observed performance at court or the way they conduct a matter as the representative of the ‘other party’. However, it is important to carry out a frank comparison of a potential candidate against your requirements, otherwise you risk failing to find the best candidate for the job.
Casting your recruitment net more widely can often result in applications from better candidates. Legal Action is an obvious place to advertise! Young Legal Aid Lawyers also has a jobs page and it publicises vacancies widely through Twitter, as does the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.
You may think you know someone from your professional dealings with them, but a good advocate or litigator may not be good at following systems or procedures.
Weeding out weak applications
Smaller firms of solicitors can lack experience of recruitment as people tend to stay with them for long periods of time. If you do not recruit very often, you may not know how to spot embellishments or omissions in a CV. Using an application form, rather than asking for CVs, can make the process easier as getting candidates to fill out your form enables a more straightforward comparison of the information provided by different applicants. Asking applicants to address some specific questions about their suitability for the role also helps to identify the stronger candidates who should be asked for interview.
It is well worth devising some tests for people to do in addition to asking them questions. Lawyers can be set legal case studies, and it makes sense to check their understanding of legal aid as it applies in their area of law. If you ask people to do exercises, you should provide any reference materials they would normally use.
If you carry out an assessment, shortlisted candidates must be offered feedback at their request. Records of why you did or did not shortlist candidates must be kept for 12 months (see SQM D1.4). The records can also act as useful evidence if an unsuccessful candidate believes that you discriminated against him/her on unlawful grounds.
The recruitment requirements in Lexcel are more detailed than the SQM and include taking up references and checking disciplinary records. It makes sense to do this regardless of the quality standard you hold. Don’t forget to check records for everyone, not just lawyers, as the Solicitors Regulation Authority can discipline anyone employed in a solicitors’ practice. Records can be checked via the website. Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal decisions can also be checked online.
You may think you know someone from your professional dealings with them, but a good advocate or litigator may not be good at following systems or procedures and may add a gloss to his/her achievements in relation to fees generated. So it is essential to take up formal references. However, don’t be put off if the reference seems bare and factual as employers are being increasingly cautious about the information they will provide.

About the author(s)

Description: Vicky Ling - author
Vicky Ling is a consultant specialising in legal aid practice and a founder member of the Law Consultancy Network.