How important is a job description in legal recruitment?

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Across the in-house legal recruitment market it is very common for businesses to put together a job description (“JD”). However, this is far less common when recruiting within private practice. But how important is this for lawyers and businesses? In this article our consultant Li Ji outlines why these might come in useful. 

Usually a JD will consist of the following elements: the company name, the title, the line manager, the responsibilities of the role and the requirements/qualifications for the candidates. Because these tend to be as precise as possible it is understandable why law firms tend to stay away from them. 

Generally in law firm recruitment, candidates are more concerned with the law firm in general and what it can offer and law firms are interested in each individual’s experience and how that can fit into their business. Generally a JD is required for HR purposes within corporates and businesses. It helps HR to understand what the business is looking for and gain an understanding of the requirements. However, these documents can’t cover all the requirements and expectations of the role. Therefore, a JD for a legal role is usually only prepared as part of the formal process. As a result of this, sometimes the information contained in these can be misleading to candidates. In reality, many Heads of Legal when they are recruiting find it more beneficial to share the key information of the role, including their requirements and pros/cons, with the recruiters they trust. This is a far better way to ensure that the right candidate is found.

In addition to the information indicated in the JD, what other key information should a candidate be aware of when considering a new position? 

  1. The budget for the role. This is probably the top factor all candidates want to know. The salary will rarely be included in the JD. Even for a new role, a budget will be set by the company. This is another element different from hiring an associate in private practice. We find that most of the time it is unlikely that a company will increase its budget for a certain candidate. The budget is directly linked to the internal employment rank; increasing the budget is almost the same as creating a new headcount hire, which can’t be decided by a legal head or an HR head on their own. It is therefore advisable that candidates stay away from roles where they are told that the budget/salary can be flexible. 
  2. The team composition, including the background and reputation of the line manager and the manager’s team management style. Candidates should also consider the situations of the other team members, including their personal education and professional background. On the other hand, a candidate should consider whether he/she can match the style of the legal team.  
  3. The status of the role in the team. A candidate should want to know the function and the structure of legal team, the reporting lines and the status of each member among the team.
  4. The career path for the role. For example, whether it is a new role or a replacement. If this role is a replacement, a candidate may wish to evaluate the complexity of the role by asking about the predecessor’s working conditions as well as why they left. If this is a new role, a candidate may want to ask about the career plan for this role in the coming two or three years, to assess whether there is any growth potential.
  5. The status of the legal department of the company. As the risk control department, the status of the legal department directly influences whether the legal counsel is capable of working successfully in the company.  

Many recruiters will argue that most of the information above is very sensitive and often the HR team themselves will not know this information. However, often by asking the right questions candidates can work out some useful answers. For example, to assess the status of the legal team in the company, consider whether the legal team reports to the legal team in the headquarters or the CEO or CFO of the China region; or find out whether the industry is highly regulated, and what matters the legal team is responsible for approving. 

Overall, generally, any job description is only an announcement of a headcount. It is always better for candidates to get a better picture of a role by approaching a reliable recruiter, instead of relying solely on the JD document.

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