Finding the right associate to join your firm can feel a lot like fishing. There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but you are searching for a star. An associate can benefit a solo or small practice by alleviating caseload pressure, helping the firm serve more clients, or supporting a long-term succession plan. They can also provide backup when you’re out of office.
Hooking and landing these qualified applicants, however, can prove difficult due to several factors: your location; lack of time and resources; market conditions; and more. While these influences are out of your control, one way to attract good candidates rests in your hands – the job description. Many employers forget the importance of the first impression. Your job description is the first connection potential applicants have with you. You want that first contact to capture their attention and interest while also conveying your values and the benefits of working with you.
Here are a few tips to describe your associate position clearly and authentically:
Forming the FoundationProviding a realistic job description is an opportunity to highlight the type of candidate you’re seeking. Before you write, visualize the key aspects of the person you want to work in your firm. Soft skills or nonlegal experiences are just as important as hard skills (e.g., area of law, years in practice, education, and other qualifications).
For soft skills, identify personality traits, professional aptitudes, and attitudes that would prepare the associate for success. Are you looking for an attorney who is comfortable interacting with a certain client demographic or familiar with a particular type of matter (e.g., older clients or special needs trusts)? Consider, for example, whether you would like someone who can confidently represent the firm in public, easily adapt to new technology, willingly share responsibilities, or eagerly contribute to firm business development. List these skills and characteristics in a “preferred” section to enhance the overall picture of your ideal candidate.
Avoid using tired cliches like dynamic, self-starter, and motivated when describing your ideal associate. Overused words like these are too vague to convey any useful information. One way to meaningfully craft your description is to tell a story. Explain how the new associate would interact with clients or how current staff work together to solve problems. Illustrating a “day in the life” will paint a vivid picture of whom you want to fill the position and what their role might entail.
Adding AppealAdd extra appeal to your job description by highlighting three key components of the position: location, firm benefits, and your personality. Consider each factor from a potential associate’s perspective and how they might perceive its value.
1. LocationYour office location may be especially important to an out-of-town candidate. Use this opportunity to show what life could be like if they moved there. Include access to activities and amenities (e.g., hiking or museums), community engagement, or information about commuting. If it is not an easy commute, mention whether you offer remote days, flexible schedules, or other options. If you are in a rural location, explain some of the town’s benefits, such as volunteer opportunities, strong communal ties, or local events.
2. Firm BenefitsJob applicants are generally interested in a potential employer’s benefits. Not every small firm and solo attorney can offer generous healthcare plans or retirement fund contributions, but you can ─ and should ─ showcase the employee benefits you do provide. You may have a compelling firm mission or a collegial, highly supportive office culture. Maybe your practice has a low or no billable hour requirement or offers a competitive salary, mentoring, or early court experience. Detail what a typical day looks like for an associate and how the firm invests in staff both short and long term (e.g., monthly bowling night or offsite training opportunities). Avoid generic language like “one big happy family,” which often feels disingenuous and stale.
3. Your PersonalityAside from the location and firm benefits, applicants may also be curious about the attorney they would be working with. Job descriptions rarely mention this aspect of hiring, but letting candidates know what to anticipate can pave the way for a lasting positive relationship. Consider sharing how you provide guidance and your views on mentorship. If you prefer to chat casually and give feedback each day, note that you work well with people who are open to hands-on supervision. For attorneys who do not anticipate a daily review, state that you need someone who can work independently and is comfortable getting feedback during scheduled meetings. Providing this level of detail will help attract associates who fit your managerial style.
If you’re looking for an associate position, it can be hard to gauge whether you are well-suited to a particular job. To start, read the entire post carefully to determine whether you meet the minimum qualifications. If you do, then consider whether the work, environment, and people seem like a good match for you.
Bonus Tips for Associates: Reading Job Descriptions
Another way to evaluate a job description is to compare what motivates you with what motivates the firm. If your work style and values are reflected in the firm’s stated goals, you’re more likely to find the job satisfying. For example, if you enjoy working closely with other people, look for keywords that center on relationships (e.g., well-rounded, collaborative environment, and interpersonal skills).
You might have to investigate beyond the job description. Don’t be afraid to do independent research. Search online for news or articles about the firm and the people who work there. If you can, find someone — attorney or community member — who is acquainted with the firm. If the office location is unfamiliar, look it up on a map to see what is nearby. At the very least, review the website!
It is generally better to be selective and intentional where you apply, so take your time and wait for the right bait to catch your eye.