From legal research skills to legal talent recruitment…

Social media generates thought provoking conversations. A question from @lawcampus, twitter account of the academic community from LexisNexis UK piqued my interest. Working as they do with students, they raised the issue of whether legal information professionals should be involved in recruitment, especially of legal trainees. Here I meander through professional HR departments, the broader involvement of business services, and conclude that we should be consulted on more than just our legal research skills.

Legal research is a vital early career skill for lawyers

@lawcampus’s rationale is that we are well placed to assist our organisations in the recruitment process due to our own research expertise. It is true that much of the work that trainees do is research based, and it is a key early career skill. Law firms recognise this, and the library and information service is allowed generous time for inductions, training sessions, and one-to-ones.

My experience with a trainees over the past 20 years has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve enjoyed turning academics into practitioners; previously committed Googlers into keyword converts; and reassuring them that sometimes there is no answer. They are encouraged to ask questions, work closely with us, and given all possible help. All skills can be taught, given the right audience.

In our interest in legal research, it is important not to lose sight of the Nexis part of Lexis Nexis. Much of the research I have done over the past few months has had a business focus. Competitor analysis, client meeting reports, business information summaries, company information. Some researchers might argue that business research skills are as important as finding commentary on a case, or a how legislation might affect a business.

…But recruitment is a professional skill

Recruitment methods depend on individual firms, but human resource departments employ cutting edge techniques to ensure they find and engage the best applicants. Psychometric testing, assessment days, essays have become the norm. Firms are looking for academic achievement, regardless of degree subject. Some opt for non-law graduates, and others prefer law degrees. Other firms recruit their paralegals, and some even encourage business services people to qualify.

But they are also looking for something extra which sets the individual trainee apart from the competition. Is that something legal research skills? Sadly it isn’t. It is the person’s ability to identify, analyse and solve problems, to organise themselves whilst working with others, to write succinctly and communicate effectively at all levels. If you can demonstrate entrepreneurial spirit, you are on your way.

The business of law is exactly that. Business. Lawyers are not supposed to be legal researchers. And legal researchers aren’t expected to be lawyers.

Why aren’t information professionals consulted?

Perhaps it is time to think creatively and innovatively.  Why is it business services aren’t being consulted on trainee or other associated legal recruitment. It is fair to note, that in my view, HR wouldn’t ask IT, Risk & Compliance etc., for assistance in purely legal recruitment issues. But consider this, IT skills are vital; knowledge of legal regulatory and compliance issues are essential; business development and sales skills are part of law firm life.

In terms of library departments, It is partly a perception issue. To some lawyers, we are the human password reminders, or the people responsible for disposal of book collections. Although most value what we do professionally, it isn’t immediately obvious how we can assist in recruitment. But let’s think of the broader picture, rather than just being consulted on legal research skills, we have a multitude of other talents which HR might find useful.

How could legal information professionals help HR?

Current awareness plays a large part of what we do. HR might want to check that potential recruits are up to date on legal issues. If they have a genuine interest in the business of law, they must know what is going on in government and the courts. We can provide this information to HR for interview and case study purposes. Given that fake news and critical analysis of sources is a real challenge at the moment, we can come up with strategies for discussing this.

It’s not just trainees that need library training. Legal apprentices are rising in popularity due to government incentives. Legal information professionals work with HR to devise inductions to supplement university study programmes. Furthermore Information professionals have been part of law firm learning and development committees for many years, and I have written about the various ways that we can help.

HR is about spotting potential in people and identifying talent. Given the right encouragement, any skill can be learnt. Is that something with which we can assist? If it is, it is time to make our presence felt in more than just legal research skills. We all have unique talents to offer our firms, but HR and other departments won’t know about them, unless we say. Firms are demanding creative, disruptive thinking, so let’s give them some ideas. What can you add to this conversation?

One last thought

Conversely, is it time that potential legal recruits ask for evidence of business service excellence? A firm runs on people, information and systems; should any of them be less than satisfactory, then the recruit has to ask why.