The LeXfactor

Legal Recruiting in an Unprecedented Market – The LeXFactor

In this episode of The LeXFactor, our hosts Lauren and Brad invite Lexicon Director of Human Resources Jes Coffey to the studio to talk about the past two years in the recruitment world. Long story short, Jes emphasizes that it’s an unprecedented market.

The trio talks about what kinds of benefits are currently pushing workers to prefer working from home over working in the office, and how culture has become the key point of discussion in candidate negotiations. They also explore how understanding the current market and the future of the employment market is vital for law firms and attorneys to pull in the people they want on their teams.

Learn more about Lexicon’s recruitment services by visiting and make sure to subscribe to The LeXFactor today.

Podcast Transcription

Lauren Hoffmann: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the LeXFactor. It’s your host Lauren here

Brad Paubel: And your co-host Brad. Do you know what we have today?

LH: What do we have?

BP: An actual in-house guest.

LH: Are you serious?

BP: Oh yes, I am. It’s been forever. We haven’t had somebody in the room with us to record in such a long time.

LH: Do you want to introduce her? I don’t know.

LH: Everybody’s just eager to find out now.

BP: Jes Coffey is with us today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you?

Jes Coffey: Sure. So I am Jes Coffey. I am the Director of HR here at Lexicon. I’ve been in the HR realm for 12 or more years. I’m old. In a lot of areas from compliance to recruiting to strategy. So just kind of all across the board.

Recruiting Trends in the Legal Industry

BP: Wow, that’s a hot topic nowadays for sure.

LH: It is, and that’s why we had her on, because literally, regardless of the industry, recruiting is like the hot button out there right now. I can’t tell you how many firms we’ve talked to that are just struggling, regardless of industry, no one can find talent.

People for the past year, we’re going on two years now, people were getting paid more on the COVID benefits and they were at work. So why bother going into work? And I don’t think we fully recovered. So what are your thoughts just in general, on the past two years, like what the heck has happened in the recruiting world and why are we still struggling to find talent, regardless of industry?

JC:  I wish I had an answer to that. but in all fairness, it is an unprecedented market for sure. It is something that we’ve never seen before. The talent pool is very small. Competition is beyond high. People are staying where they’re at or jumping ship for sometimes double the salary.

So when it comes to those pieces, the market is beyond intense and something that is needing to be pivoted quickly, as far as those approaches and really figuring out what works for each industry.

BP: Do you think salary, or do you think it’s also benefits, working from home?

JC: I think it’s all of it, right? I think salary plays a role in. I think folks got comfy in their yoga pants. And so it’s hard now.

LH: My real pants don’t fit anymore.

JC: It’s hard to come back and be in an office when you were at home for a couple of years. So I think it goes to the benefits. I think it goes to that work-life balance. And most importantly, I think it always comes down to culture.

Establishing Law Firm Culture

BP: Culture is so important. That is always a topic for us here.

LH: You mentioned that a lot of people are jumping ship because they’re seeing double salaries out there or these amazing benefits. What are some of those benefits that you could actually put into play at your own firm to keep people from jumping ship, knowing that the there’s so many golden eggs out there attracting them?

JC: I think really it depends on what’s important to that culture, right? Every culture is a little bit different and I think it’s important to get to know what’s important to your staff. What do they value? What’s impacting their day to day? If you do an analysis and you have a high medical use or a high mental health use, putting in place employee-assistance programs and resources whether it’s really negotiating those medical costs and what that looks like and impacting employees there. We’ve seen a lot of people go to mental health days. So benefits for me are really across the board, not necessarily just your traditional medical, dental vision, but just really that overall employment experience.

Are we ordering virtual lunches for folks when we do meetings? What does that overall benefit package look like? But that employee-assistance program is something that is coming in hot and heavy, for sure.

LH: I just realized, I forgot to order my lunch.

BP: And that’s what you take away from that.

LH: And today’s takeaway is order your lunch before your two-hour meeting.

Utilizing Legal Recruiters

BP: I want to jump around a little bit. You had mentioned negotiating or that entire package. What do I do if I’m looking for somebody and they’re coming in and they’re asking for double the salary? How do I negotiate with them? Because of course, money doesn’t grow on trees. I don’t just have a ton of it so what do I do?

JC: You use your recruiters who are fabulous at negotiations, and really through that wine-and-dine stage of a candidate as they come through it. It is their expertise to get to know what’s important to that candidate. A lot of times they’ll toss out money, but it’s really deep diving looking at benefits. What does that total comp look like? Could someplace else pay you a little bit more, but do we allow you to work from home and is that a vital thing for you? So really just getting to know that candidate and allowing those recruiters to do those negotiations and finding that balance between the salary and that benefit package, I think is super important.

LH: And some firms don’t have recruiters. I think a lot of the firms we work with right now are on the smaller side, and they’ve always struggled with recruiting because they’re doing everything themselves as it is. And now we throw in this weirdness of post-COVID recruiting where recruiting gets even more difficult because you have people asking for such what two years ago were pretty crazy benefits, but they’re pretty normal now. Whether you don’t have recruiters on staff or it’s just you running the ship, that’s kind of where we come in. This is not a sales pitch, but I do want you to explain what exactly we offer from a recruiting standpoint, because like I said, there’s people out there that don’t have those resources internally, so there are sources that can help.

JC: So we offer that full package recruiting. So anything from that culture analysis to that job development piece of it, developing those job descriptions through the screening process – all of that stuff takes so much time to sort through applications, resumes, to call people, to figure out what is important to them and what’s driving them, that market analysis of what do the local comps look like. Every market’s a little bit different and down to the actual interviewing, down to those negotiations. No one wants to negotiate with someone and go through those ups and downs and then work right alongside with them. Sometimes it gets folks started off on the wrong foot. Our recruiters’ jobs, in any role, is to sugarcoat that, right? To say, “Hey, we got it done at package signed, sealed, delivered. Here you go. Here’s your candidate. We got you what you wanted.” But we offer that full analysis and that’s any recruiter’s role is to really get in there and allow people to do what they do well and our job is to get the staff on board.

BP: I think an important thing to remember is that the employee-life cycle starts at that very first call before they’re an employee. You have to, like you said, I think it’s so important, for that recruiter or the individual doing it, to be able to listen to them, to understand what’s important to them so that you can build up that aspect of the package that you’re offering. It’s so critical.

JC: It starts from that first contact, whether it’s a call, an email reach-out and then that relationship is built from there. In all of my recruiting experience, in that first year of employment staff are far more likely to come back to the recruiter if they have a question than they are to even go to their manager or HR in general, just because they built that rapport. They knew that person came to the rescue on Friday evening or Saturday morning when they had a weird question they just wanted to get answered. Switching jobs, that’s scary. You’re leaving a comfort level to go to something new. So it is for sure the recruiter’s job to build that rapport, make it an easy transition and build that relationship quick and fast.

Listen: Young Attorneys on Remote Recruiting and Onboarding

What is Your Employment Brand?

LH: I agree. It’s funny you say that because when I started working here, it’s been about two years, Lexicon was definitely something I had never considered. I had never worked in the legal space, in the software space, nothing like that. And I had always worked at like really large established companies. So I was coming from a place that I absolutely hated. I could not get out soon enough. And I remember when I had my phone interview with Lexicon, the recruiter that I worked with was so optimistic and happy and very compelling. And it’s like, “Oh, my god. I want to be your friend.” This was a great first experience to have someone that was just so chipper. And it’s funny you said that because during my first year I would always go to her when I had questions because we had built that rapport. And so when you said that, it’s totally true. And I obviously didn’t want to make the same mistake as I had with the previous job, because I was so miserable wanting to get out. I wanted to have that good experience and she put on a great face for the company. It was perfect. And now I’m here hosting podcasts.

So Jes, going back to before this podcast actually started, we were having a conversation in the room, and you mentioned an employment brand. What is an employment brand?

JC: Employment brands are really branding your culture, right? Being that employer of choice, setting the standard in the industry or the field to say, “Why do you want to come here? What does this firm mean? What does our culture say?” But really packaging it up so it is presentable to candidates as they come in the door to say, “We’re your employer of choice and this is why.” A lot of that comes from feedback from employees. A lot of that comes from culture building, but it is really branding that out there so that folks know what you stand for, why employees are important and having that employee-first focus and what that means in that company. It really brings people all in on the same page. It gives that vision. It knows, your employees are your biggest ambassadors. They’re out talking, recruiting people themselves. Referrals are amazing. All of that stems from having a strong employment brand.

LH: How hard is it to create that brand? How do you even go about that? I know you mentioned it comes down to how you treat your employees, but how do you even start that?

JC: How do you build an employment brand? You start with a lot of times surveying your staff. You start with seeing what’s important, taking those exit interviews, taking onboarding surveys, what went well, asking your staff what’s important, what do they love about where they work, why do they come to work every day? Really taking those words and building your mission around them, building your purpose around them, and then rolling in a strategic fashion to say that every time we do this engagement activity, this is why this is what we’re doing, but it’s under a constant evaluation to say, could we do it better? Is this real, right? Culture shifts. COVID happens. Life happens. Businesses change. It is really just getting it out there and building it from the staff, seeing what’s important to them and why they stay and who they bring on board speaks volumes to a culture.

What Happens After Exit Interviews?

BP:  You mentioned exit interviews. I always have questions about that. It’s something that’s come up in articles that we’ve looked at, things like that. How much weight do you put in an exit interview?

JC: A lot.

LH:  I always wondered that. You wonder if they just file them away.

JC: No, exit interviews are super important. It allows folks who you wish would have spoken up at the time a voice that they now feel like they can be super candid about, and it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. Those exit interviews, you’re going to have an employee who leaves and who was satisfied and just maybe relocated, or there’s not a purposeful reason that we could have improved on, that exits. They’re going to maybe tell five people what a great place their previous employer was. But man, if you have someone who feels unheard and exited poorly, that’s going to go to 50 people, right? So I think that exit is just as important, if not, maybe a little bit more important than the onboarding, but that feedback super vital. How do we grow? How do we change? How do we give those managers that feedback? That’s a growing opportunity for sure.

BP: So the cycle starts from that very first call to the very last. You mentioned surveying the employees and understanding and asking the question, “Why are you here? Why do you like working here?” Once you collect that information back, do you then translate that into your brand and culture and emphasize it? What is your next step after that?

JC: We don’t tuck it away in the HR files for sure. We want to get it out there. We want people to feel that their opinions were heard and valued. I always say, “We asked, you answered, and here’s our plan.” So that we can say, “Here’s the feedback we got. Here’s what we’re doing with it. Here’s the action items that came out of it.” And then it’s important to have those surveys over and over – a little differently, right? Different targets, but it’s important to be as transparent as you can because that’s what’s going to build that morale to say, “Man, my opinion really mattered,” Or, “Yeah, I tossed it out there. My idea wasn’t taken this time, but look, my co-worker’s was,” and that’s super exciting. So building that strategy backwards off of they’re putting together, you know, it’s not a fast and furious. It’s, it’s truly an 18-to-24-month plan, especially if you’re starting at ground zero to put it out there to create activities around it, to create those functions around those surveys, those questions, those activities, make sure there’s actionable items.

Determining What Your Employees Value

BP: I think it’ll surprise you. We had a guest on about, I guess, two or three podcasts ago that said the reason their employees stay is because of the flexible hours and not salary. They really wanted that flexibility because they just had a baby and both male and female wanted to be able to be with the family more. And she didn’t allow overtime work unless there was some kind of emergency. And that value was so much greater than going into the city and getting a higher paid job. They were also closer to home. And so those benefits are kind of what she structured her law firm after. And so I think it might surprise you what the employees will say. It could be anything, it doesn’t have to be salary. It could be the benefits package. It could be the flexibility. It could be their boss. It could be so many different things.

JC: To kind of piggyback off what you’re saying, Brad, as far as figuring out what’s motivating the staff, you’ll have jobs where their job is what’s motivating. Millennials, right? They want to be part of the bigger picture. They want to understand what that is, and they want to know how their job fits into that. For them, that’s motivating and engaging. It might not be the benefit package because they still might be on their mom and dad’s. So it’s finding those motivational factors and bringing those altogether for all different age groups of workers and moving that forward in your culture. Somewhere I was at before, their staff was motivated by the work that they did. They supported people and they were wholeheartedly motivated by seeing their impact and knowing what difference that made in the community. And so I think it’s different in every culture, every employer.

LH: That’s a good point. That’s nice. You rarely find people who are actually that excited about what they do these days because so many people are (excited about) great benefits, great money, and the idea of actually finding a place that you truly love is pretty cool, but you don’t hear it a lot.

BP: That’s true, but I did read an article, I guess it was a couple days ago that there is a trend for people, even long-time careers, to just stop and become a painter or do something that they just love and be OK with the pay cut and just reduce their life with it. There’s a big move towards that. This same article also said there’s a big move towards more men staying at home and more women entering the workplace. It’s just such an interesting time with all of the transitions. You have to support people chasing their dreams.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. If you could quit today and do the thing that you absolutely love what would you do?

JC: I know my answer.

LH: She’s ready to go.

JC: I would flip homes. My husband could flip them and I would be the interior designer.

The Most Important Aspect of Legal Recruiting

BP: In kindergarten, I’m going way back now, I was asked this question and you had to draw a picture of your, your job and mine was the man on the back of the garbage truck. I thought, “How fun would it be to hang on the back of a truck, work outside, you just stop every now and then pick up garbage and throw it in a truck. It sounds kind of fun. So that was my dream for a long, long time. I know, great aspirations for myself.

What other advice would you give somebody that’s just lost in the whole HR realm, but they have to hire? What’s the fundamental thing you’d give them?

JC: Put the right people on the right seats on the bus. Really knowing what your workforce needs, who you have, and what you need to move forward. That’s a hard thing to do. It’s a hard thing to look internally and figure out what that looks like for you. But I think that is the most important thing. Again, people are going to leave their supervisor, they’re not going to leave their job, and they’re also going to leave if they don’t feel like their work is purposeful. Making sure that you have the right people in the right seats on the bus is super important. So knowing what you’re heading out looking for, knowing what characteristics, what job functions you need, is that first stepping block so that you’re not just out there trying to swim through a pool full of unqualified folks.

BP: One more question. Just curious. Jes has such insightful wisdom that I want to pull from her out into the audience. Would you think that the people entering the workforce now, are they more in tune with, “This is my job. Don’t let me deviate from it. My scope is very narrow.” Or do you think people, just in general, more like an open scope for their job, doing multiple different roles. Which do you feel is more common now with the younger generation entering the workforce?

JC: My personal opinion, I have no facts behind this, my personal opinion is they really, truly are trying to be the Jack of all trades. I think they’re trying to get out there and get their hands in everything. See what clicks. When I was a kid, you had jobs, right? When you were growing up, so you got to try different things, see what you liked. That’s not as common anymore. So those first jobs, a lot of times are folks’ first couple experiences in the workforce. And so they kind of take it as they want to take it all on. They want to learn. They want to see what’s out there. They want to dabble in all kinds of things and see what clicks, see what drives them. And so I think it’s a shift because it used to be you just came in and you did accounts payable. You start, you finish and you’re done. I think it’s a much more gray area when it comes to those duties. People want to jump into a vareity things and try stuff out.

BP: I think so too, but I think it’s a positive shift, frankly, because good ideas can come from anybody. And having somebody that may not have had the experience or not Really giving a try and giving suggestions, I think it’s just positive. It allows you to take in newer thoughts. I think it’s a positive shift, frankly, and you’re not stuck in a day in day out, same old, same old.

JC: I think that comes with structure behind and guidance to know when it’s appropriate, where to jump. … I think there has to be some structure behind it. There’s got to be some understanding in how that drives your culture and that open-door policy so that it doesn’t have the reverse effect because other times people would feel unvalued if they are constantly tossing their opinion out and it’s not getting heard. So I think it’s important to have that structure behind it.