Recruiting, Professional Development Departments Report on Recent Changes in Their Departments

October 7, 2010

Respondents from more than 100 recruiting and/or professional development departments participated in a recent survey by NALP to determine what kinds of staffing and structural changes these departments have experienced in the last two years.

See table
See comments from participants

Most respondents characterized their responsibilities either as recruiting or as both recruiting and professional development. Among the key findings are that, between August 2008 and August 2010, half of departments have had a reduction in force, and half have seen their operating budget reduced by more than 10%. Of those departments that experienced a reduction in force, over one-quarter reported that two or more staff were let go. Adding duties was far more common than relinquishing duties to another department. See the table below for complete survey results.

This quick survey focused specifically on staffing and structural changes because changes in those areas have not been as widely publicized as changes in such areas as summer programs. Although the survey did not specify that reported changes had to be as a result of the recession, it is reasonable to presume that, for the most part, changes such as reductions in force and budget decreases were largely driven by the economic climate.

Survey of Recent Changes in Recruiting and Professional Development Departments
(percent of respondents)

  Department Handles:
Recruiting Recruiting and Professional Development
  All respondents All Firms of
250 or
fewer lawyers
Firms of
251+ lawyers
All Firms of
250 or
fewer lawyers
Firms of
251+ lawyers
Duties have been added
Yes 42.5% 33.3% 40.9% 28.6% 51.0% 46.2% 56.0%
No 56.6 66.7 59.1 71.4 47.1 50.0 44.0
Don't know 0.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.0 3.8 0.0
Duties have been removed
Yes 8.8 10.5 13.6 8.6 5.9 7.7 4.0
No 91.2 89.5 86.4 91.4 94.1 92.3 96.0
Staff have been laid off
Yes 51.3 50.9 36.4 60.0 52.9 38.5 68.0
No 48.7 49.1 63.6 40.0 47.1 61.5 32.0
If so, how many?
One 53.4 48.3 62.5 42.9 59.3 80.0 47.1
Two 15.5 10.3 12.5 9.5 18.5 20.0 17.6
More than two 27.6 37.9 12.5 47.6 18.5 0.0 29.4
Number not known 3.5 3.5 12.5 0.0 3.7 0.0 5.9
Some administrative staff now shared with another department
Yes 29.2 29.8 22.7 34.3 27.4 23.1 32.0
No 70.8 70.2 77.3 65.7 72.6 76.9 68.0
Staff has been added*
Yes 11.5 5.3 0.0 8.6 17.6 7.7 28.0
No 88.5 94.7 100.0 91.4 82.4 92.3 72.0
Department budget has
Increased by more than 10% 5.4 3.6 0.0 5.9 5.9 7.7 4.0
Stayed about the same 33.0 25.0 31.8 20.6 41.2 50.0 32.0
Decreased by more than 10% 52.7 64.3 59.1 67.6 41.2 34.6 48.0
Don't know 8.9 7.1 9.1 5.9 11.8 7.7 16.0
Number of respondents 113 57 22 35 51 26 25

Note: Figures for recruiting and recruiting/professional development departments include some human resources departments which indicated that they perform these functions. The 'all responses' category includes a few responses from departments handling only professional development and from HR departments that could not be categorized elsewhere.

The respondents represent a mix of departments that handle a single (or only office), some but not all offices, and all domestic or world-wide offices.

*Of the few departments that reported adding staff, the number of staff added was typically one.

Comments from survey participants

Comments on changes in duties:

Some respondents described duties that have been added to their department since August of 2008, or become the responsibility of one individual in the department.

The descriptions covered a wide range. However, the one item that was mentioned most frequently was diversity initiatives.

Other duties mentioned as added to departments handling primarily recruiting include mentoring, associate life, and new hires orientation; performance evaluations; deferral program; conflicts checks; firm event planning; client development support and marketing; hiring of contract attorneys; alumni relations; pro bono program; college intern programs; and working with the Board of Directors.

For departments handing recruiting and professional development and that reported additional duties, for some it was the case that the additional duty was some or all aspects of professional development, including CLE tracking. Other duties mentioned, besides diversity as noted above, include hiring, training and evaluation of other staff, including paralegals; responsibility for student programs; various human resources tasks such as benefits administration; tracking of bar dues; travel; risk management; and women's initiatives.

Of the few departments that reported that some duties had been moved to another department, duties mentioned include orientation, certain professional development and human resources functions; or the shift of a specific task, such as production of a recruiting brochure or statistics-keeping, to another department.

General Commentary

Finally, a number of respondents described more generally recent changes in their department. Some comments focused on staffing, others on programmatic changes or restructuring. The comments reproduced below, with minor edits for clarity as needed, are representative of those received.

Comments from recruiting departments:

"Our budget decreased by 10% or more in 2009 and 2010. Reducing our summer associate class size had the largest impact on decreasing our budget due to less expenses related to travel and social events (fewer numbers for each event)."

"I have been w/our firm for many years, and we've always had a summer program and participated in fall recruiting. In the last couple of years we have not had a summer program nor have we participated in fall recruiting."

"Our workforce has decreased, but not because of layoffs. However, we were not allowed to replace the individuals who left."

"In January 2009 my position as Recruitment Administrator was reduced to 60% until May 1, 2009. The position has since resumed to 100%."

"We were previously a department of two; I am now alone in the recruiting function."

"We did reduce our staff by one part-time person but did add back someone specifically for the last two recruiting seasons. The person brought on this year will be staying full-time after the recruiting season."

"The individual who previously worked with me in Recruiting moved to HR and retained responsibility for continuing education and professional development."

"One of the Recruiting staff is now working only half time with Recruiting; the other half of her time is devoted to our community outreach program, which is in a different, unrelated department."

"The New Lawyer, i.e., law student/summer program, Recruiting Department (that had 4 employees and was under HR) , and the Lateral Recruiting Department (that had 4 employees and is under Practice Services) merged in early 2009. We lost 2 employees total as a result of this restructuring--from 8 to 6). Then in mid 2009, we laid off another 2 employees. So we currently have 4 employees and are responsible for both lateral and new lawyer recruiting. The four of us who are still here did lateral recruiting before the merger; so when we took on new lawyer recruiting we had to learn that function."

"The recruiting department handles office event planning, community service activities, and leads the green team."

"The firm added a marketing dept. which oversees the firm's recruiting brochures, etc."

Comments from departments handling both recruiting and professional development:

"Reduction in operating budget has remained the same as 2009 which was a significant decrease from 2008."

"Operating budget in 2009 was cut back to "keeping lights on" as there was little hiring -- dramatically reduced OCI roster (from 31 to 5; up to 10 this year, which in hindsight was too optimistic); dramatically reduced summer program (less than 30% of 2008 program) and deferred hires from both 2008 class and 2009. Though the 2010 budget was increased in anticipation that there would be a modest increase in hiring activity, the total budget is less than 50% of the pre-August 2008 budget, and that is unlikely to change."

"We moved to regional recruiting management structure. We used to have recruiting managers in all major markets; now there are 2-6 offices consolidated under a manager."

"The recruiting coordinator position has been upgraded to HR Manager and takes on responsibility for training and employee relations functions as well as special projects."

"The staff person assisting department now was originally full-time in another department, but since September 2008 assists both departments."

Other comments:

"Attorney recruiting now reports to H.R. We are now responsible for all recruiting & training (staff & attorneys), as well as CLE, diversity, and bar licenses."

"Professional Development is a new department formed in 2010, a significant change for the firm."

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