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The Lessons in Our Search History

March 28, 2023

Staffing best practices flex flexible resourcing legal resourcing

For those involved in legal recruiting and staffing, it might seem unlikely that software engineers have anything to teach us. And yet, amidst the current buzz around ChatGPT and other technologies, the hype around another technology two decades ago is worth revisiting.

Why Yet Another ‘Next Big Thing’ Wasn’t

Back before CLM, LPM, Request Management, Portals, and Dashboards, just after DMS and CRM, and around the same time as KM, there was ES – Enterprise Search, touted as about to change everything. ES was among the first legal applications of AI; with ‘Bayesian Inferencing’ and ‘Natural Language Processing’, it promised to cut through the clutter on the network shares, orphaned Team Sites, legacy databases, and DMS libraries and provide search results every bit as relevant search as Google did.

ES failed to deliver on that promise for a number of reasons. The systems had limited information about documents outside the text within them, meta-data was limited and often inaccurate, and there was no context about why they were created or about how the document had been used or rated by others. What relevance algorithms existed were not as nuanced as Google’s original PageRank algorithm, nor had the metadata on which to calculate relevance. The interfaces encouraged simple natural language searches that led users to be either overly broad or to use terms specific to their areas of specialty. Searches returned either no results or scores of pages of documents with similar titles but questionable relevance, nor did the engines make appropriate use of information about the preferences and prior behaviors of the user undertaking the search.  When users tried to pare down voluminous results by filtering them with terms specific to their practice area, conceptually-relevant documents often did not remain in the results. Some systems sought feedback from users as to a result’s relevance, but rarely did users take the time to give it. ES’s flaws quickly drove many users to return to time-tested approaches (e.g., asking associates).

Best Practices for Legal Resourcing

ES relates to legal resourcing because both require knowing a specific and specialised domain and seeking that one perfect result from a trove of possibilities under time pressure and limited human patience for subpar tools.

ES’s shortcomings illuminate several best practices for legal resourcing:

  • Understanding context, particularly the need behind a request. Context is critical for finding the right resources quickly and setting accurate expectations with Talent. Great recruiters also suggest approaches that may not be obvious at the outset but nevertheless address the need at hand.
  • Focusing requests so that the constraints and specified qualifications – and the priority of each – align with what the requester truly needs. Few candidates meet all criteria; good recruiters understand how the unique profile of a candidate aligns with the requester’s needs.
  • Contextualising rather than fixating on particular terms or titles in case a suitable candidate’s CV uses different terms-of-art than the hiring manager.
  • Obtaining timely, detailed, and contextual feedback to fine-tune a search. Initial search parameters may be inapt, and priorities may evolve as candidate screening proceeds.
  • Leveraging feedback to aid future searches for a customer, armed with a better sense of what makes for a successful candidate for a particular company, team, or hiring manager.
  • Getting follow-up feedback about a successful candidate’s performance and about the Customer (from the candidate). This yields helpful information for optimising future searches and ensuring aligning of working styles.

The Crucial Value of Intake Interviews

The points above underscore the value of a proven legal-specific resourcing agency, and – importantly – the returns on an initial 30-minute conversation to zero-in on what matters for a particular request. At Elevate, we call this an Intake Interview – part of our standard operating procedure.

Some customers resist an Intake Interview: they claim they don’t have the time or do not grasp its value. It pays dividends in two ways. First, it provides the crucial context that enables us to quickly deliver what a customer needs. That context helps eliminate ‘spaghetti at the wall’ results typical with larger agencies, job search engines, or reliance on RFP/VMS systems.

Second, it fosters a long-term relationship in which your resourcing partners who over time, armed with context about your organisation and a robust understanding of your needs, will be more cost-effective than sending every mandate out to every agency every time. The Intake Interview is the starting point for two of Elevate’s top priorities: that you will want to interview and then want to hire every candidate we send, and that every candidate from Elevate will say when we ask (and we do) a couple of weeks in, ‘This is exactly the team and role I was expecting, and exactly what I wanted.’

Enterprise Search is one in a long line of ‘next great things’ that promised to solve the Legalverse’s problems, only to fall short of expectations and fade from peoples’ minds, budgets, and conference agendas. Meanwhile, flexible resourcing, especially with the ‘Portfolio Career’ paradigm now solidly established, remains a tried-and-true solution.

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