Money matters when hiring lawyers

Baltimore Business Journal Article by Howard Kurman



Howard  Kurman

I have been personally involved in the interviewing and hiring of literally dozens of attorneys and attorney candidates in the past decade. What I’ve learned is that hiring, though far from a science, is most definitely an art whose nuances must be respected in a radically changed legal environment. The truth is that, at least for midsize law firms like Offit Kurman, hiring has dramatically changed. With that change has come both challenges and opportunities for those attorneys who are contemplating a move from one firm to another, or even who desire to leave the insecurities of a solo practice for the perceived benefits offered by midsize to large firms. As someone who has seen our firm grow from a small, locally based practice comprised of about 20 attorneys in Baltimore County, to a regionally based mid-Atlantic firm with approximately 110 attorneys operating from Northern Virginia to New York, I can say that certain principles are now undoubtedly in play with regard to the legal hiring climate — at least for midsize firms. The days of an attorney being hired because of his or her academic background or practice knowledge are, for the most part, over. When we hire attorneys, we are looking for attorneys who can immediately contribute as productive, profitable attorneys. That means that much of our growth has been fueled by acquiring attorneys with established books of business who are looking for entrepreneurial organizations that function like profit-seeking and well-managed enterprises. Moreover, compensation systems need to be designed to offer experienced attorneys with books of business the opportunity to earn their salaries based upon their own merit, not based upon anachronistic lockstep or politically based compensation systems. The platform we have developed at our firm establishes a compensation system under which attorneys considering a move from their existing firms know that their earning potential at ours is limited only by their own self-imposed constraints on how much business they can generate and how hard they want to work. Hard-working, business-generating attorneys, irrespective of age or seniority, should have the ability to surpass older and more senior attorneys in what they can earn — and frankly, that’s the way a meritocracy should work. Thus, the legal landscape for hiring is much different than when I first started practicing, many more years ago than I probably should reveal. That landscape is now geared to hiring those attorneys, young or old, who can immediately make a contribution to the firm’s bottom line. The days of law firms serving as patient training grounds for cadres of young lawyers, at least as far as midsize and smaller firms are concerned, is over. Like it or not, well-run law firms need to and increasingly are being managed and operated much like the business clients they regularly advise and represent