Law firms don’t recognise that the balance of power in relation to their employment brand lies not in their hands, but in the hands of their employees. To make matters worse, some of this power also lies in the hands of former employees, potential employees and other “employment stakeholders” such as recruitment agencies and digital media channels dedicated to commenting on the foibles of law firms.

Law firms don’t appreciate that the balance of power in relation to their employment brand lies with their employees, and even their former and potential employees, as well as with other parties like recruitment agencies . These other parties determine the brand. Firms assume it is what they offer that matters, but that is but one small component in the mix. (© Sean Larkan 2012)

This is because a firm’s employment brand is based on how the firm is perceived and experienced as an employer by existing employees, past employees and potential employees, as well as by other parties such as recruitment agencies and the media. Its employment brand is not what the firm thinks it is, but what these ‘others’ think it is.

This is a harsh lesson for most firms to stomach. It can be mystifying. Firms assume their employment brand is based on what they say in their recruitment materials, on their website, what they do, what they decide to offer employees as part of their employment package, and so on.

Instead, the power lies in the hands of others, the firm’s employees, past employees, potential employees, and others in the recruitment and media industries. What employers offer to their employees is merely part of what we call their employment brand offering. Firms still have a great deal of work to do to build their employment brand. For a start:

  • you must clarify your employment brand offering – identify, clarify and agree all the things you do offer to existing and potential employees and what makes working for the firm special and sets it apart. Bear in mind that standard features and benefits don’t make much of a difference; they don’t differentiate a firm as all firms offer them anyway – if they don’t now they can easily and quickly replicate them;
  • you must achieve Brand Fusion™ which is essentially ensuring that what you offer is actually experienced or has been experienced in the case of past employees. This is no mean feat given that you are largely dependent on the exigencies of individualistic, independent-minded partners to act as your front-line troops in making this happen;
  • ideally, you should develop a comprehensive employment brand strategy with a view to building trust in your employment brand. Trust is the most important building block for such a brand; and
  • if that is not enough, you should also do everything in your power to avoid a brand gap, what Neumeier refers to as the gap between strategy and creativity, and what I term the gap between firm strategy and human resources strategy on the one hand, and your brand strategy on the other. On the other side of the coin you must achieve alignment between these strategies.
All of this is a tough gig. It is about understanding brand, developing appropriate strategy around it and most important of all, implementing and changing the mindsets and behaviours of those who most influence the results.
It is not something to be simply palmed off on HR or the recruitment team. It requires understanding, top leadership and direction. It is truly strategic – this is because a law firm is only as good as the calibre of the people it earns the right to recruit, develop and retain.
This should be motivation enough to put in the effort to craft all the essential building blocks of a strong employment brand. In the long term, it will always see you through to getting your fair share of the highest calibre candidates and importantly, keeping them. It may also improve the employment balance of power, if that is important to you.
All the best, Sean Larkan, Edge International