James Berger knows that skilled legal professionals are in high demand today. “Like many law firms, we are enjoying a strong growth cycle,” said Berger, managing partner, Berger Singerman in Miami. “We have been able to find some phenomenal new talent in our real estate, corporate, tax and litigation practice areas, but it takes work to recruit them and bring them on board.”
Throughout South Florida, it’s a tight job market for attorneys, accountants, other professionals and support staff. As a result, firms need to move quickly to identify promising candidates, review their qualifications and extend an offer – before another firm makes its decision.
“Attracting and retaining talent has been a challenge for many South Florida industries, including law firms, given today’s competitive marketplace and multigenerational workforce,” said Al Dotson, managing partner, Bilzin Sumberg in Miami. “This is why firms need to develop a process that focuses in on the best candidates, and strengthen their training, coaching and mentoring efforts as a part of their retention and promotion efforts.
Searching for talent
Faced with a shortage of professional talent here, some firms are recruiting associates and partners from other parts of the country, says recruiter Jennifer Fitzgeorge, division direction at Special Counsel’s Parker + Lynch Legal in Fort Lauderdale. That may include paying bar relocation expenses.
“Many South Florida firms feel a strong connection with New York,” Fitzgeorge said. “They like the way the city’s firms train their associates, so they’re ready to advise clients.”
Berger Singerman has received a growing number of resumes from attorneys who have practiced in the Northeast and now want to return home to South Florida, said Berger. “Our recruiting strategies include using outside search firms and asking our internal professionals to identify talented attorneys who might consider a lateral move,” he added.
Summer internships are another traditional approach to seeing if a law school student would be a good match for the firm in the future.
Debbie Montero, vice president, permanent placement legal recruiter for Robert Half Legal in Miami, says some firms have an “old-school mindset,” and focus on hiring new associates with degrees from the nation’s top law schools. Others draw on their partners’ ties to Florida law schools in recruiting recent graduates.
Corporate and real estate are two of the region’s hottest practice areas. A candidate who speaks Spanish and has several years of experience is likely to receive multiple offers, said Fitzgeorge. Speaking Portuguese is also a plus, particularly for in-house counsel positions with multinationals that have operations in Brazil.
“A multinational seeking to fill an in-house counsel position might want a candidate who is familiar with Latin American culture,” added Montero. “On the other hand, some companies only want to talk with candidates who have focused on a certain sector, such as healthcare or banking.”
Small and mid-size firms often use flexible scheduling to compete with the national firms. “Many attorneys have children or other family responsibilities,” Fitzgeorge said. “Being able to work from home, at least from time to time, can be a benefit that outweighs the salary.”
Innovative approaches can also help attract legal talent, she added. “One firm offers a mock client social program to help new attorneys build rapport with their contacts and develop their business skills,” said Fitzgeorge. “Others have redesigned their offices, creating a shared workspace with modern decor and even a rooftop deck.”
Diversity, personal health and work-life balance programs can also help law firms attract legal talent. Emphasizing pro bono service opportunities can also help attract younger professionals, said Montero. “But the most important benefit is offering challenging assignments that keep new associates engaged with the firm,” she added. “That can be a real competitive advantage for smaller firms.”
Dotson agrees. “The key to effective recruiting of any potential team member, regardless of position or experience level, is to offer a dynamic, thriving and unified company culture with an opportunity for growth,” he said. For instance, Bilzin helps its attorneys grow their practices by providing marketing resources and investing in technology.
“A big attraction for young associates is how we onboard from the beginning with the Bilzin Sumberg Academy for Professional Development,” he added. “It’s an intensive training program that essentially bridges the gap between what attorneys learn in law school and what is necessary in their everyday practice.”
Moving up the ladder
Some firms promote associates to partner more quickly than in the past, said Fitzgeorge. “Having a partner title carries more weight with clients,” she said. “It also helps firms retain top attorneys, since they may be less likely to leave for a lateral position.”
Berger Singerman takes a merit-based approach, said Berger. “We pay a lot of attention to providing the right support for our attorneys who want to develop their careers, including involvement in Bar activities and community organizations,” he said.
At Bilzin Sumberg, new associates and junior partners work one-on-one alongside senior partners, Dotson Said. “That leads to a more united firm and makes us attuned with the needs of our next generation, so we stay on track to identify strong, talented attorneys.”
Financial Professionals in Demand
It’s not just lawyers who are hard to find in South Florida. Financial professionals are also in demand, according to Ashley Orfin, metro market manager for Robert Half in South Florida. “We surveyed 220 chief financial officers (CFOs) in metropolitan areas, and two-thirds said it was either challenging or very challenging to find skilled candidates for professional positions,” she said. For instance, the U.S. unemployment rate for compliance officers is probably around 1 percent, she added
To fill those positions, employers are hiring interim workers, hoping to bring them on board permanently in the future, Orfin said. They are also recruiting candidates from wider geographic areas and loosening their “must have” qualifications, she said.
“Employers should develop an action plan, ask for referrals, develop a shortlist of candidates, conduct a careful assessment and move swiftly to make an offer,” Orfin said. “They should also be sure they offer attractive compensation and strive to make their company stand out in the competitive talent market.”
South Florida Legal Guide August 2018