Work don’t work

December 1, 2013

Why firms that advertise ‘work-life balance’ might need to think again 

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How many times have you seen a recruitment advertisement for a law firm and known that it doesn’t represent reality?

You may have heard what that particular firm is really like on the grapevine. Or worked there before. Perhaps it’s the firm you’re working for now. Those pre-employment promises don’t always seem so glamorous in the harsh fluorescent glow of your cluttered desk.

When people are looking for a new job, they want the best for themselves. But the whole recruitment process – from advert through selection process, interviews and induction – needs to give potential/new employees a fair representation of your firm and their expected role within it.

False advertising is just as dangerous when it comes to your career as it would be in other areas of your life. If you purchased a car advertised as that shiny, sporty number you’ve always hankered after, only to take delivery of a beaten up old banger, you’re going to feel like you’ve been had. You’d probably want to sue. If you turn up at work to discover your role (and firm) is not what you were promised it would be, it’s harder to just make a speedy exit. You need to pay your legal bills and buy a new car, for starters.

Which is why ads for law firms which focus only on the life aspect of the work life balance can be particularly misleading. The problem with this approach is – where’s the work? Is it behind that smiling kid with the kite? Over the crest of the hill? Up that tree?

Wrong, wrong

A good recruitment advert should explain why a person should join your firm rather than all those other firms out there. It’s great if your firm cares about work-life balance, but if you advertise solely based on the smiley happy fun aspect of the life bit of that work-life balance, you’re giving the wrong impression and may well attract the wrong people (that’s assuming you want the best candidates who can add value to what you do and don’t mind hard work).

So, what should your adverts say? And how can they stay realistic while still being attractive to the right potential candidates?

It depends what you have on offer. Magnificence of opportunity? Amazing cases? Occasionally getting to leave work before daylight’s last flicker? A gym for your partners to glance at longingly as they scurry from appointment to appointment, knowing that the files in their arms are the only weights they’ll ever get to lift?

The trick is to be realistic, but make the best of what you’ve got. And don’t forget the work. People want to have interesting things to do. People want to be challenged. If the money’s good, the salary tends to be a selling point, too. Apparently, some people go into law for the money.

Selling points

So, tell people why your firm is better than that firm over there. And that other one. And all the rest. Good candidates will do their research, but only if the initial advert interests them enough. Otherwise, they simply won’t apply.

Don’t get us wrong. A real work-life balance is great, although sometimes hard to realistically achieve. If you don’t have it, it can have a very serious impact on your mental health and physical well-being. Lack of it can damage your working relationships, your career and whatever you have by way of a home life.

But … should it, can it, be the sole selling point when you are trying to recruit the best lawyers to your firm? And should you claim to offer it in such an unbalanced way?

If you want exceptional lawyers you have to let the work and the working environment attract them – with a smidge of work-life balance thrown in so that they know that you are human and you’ll let them do human things, too.

If you sell dreams, you’ll get daydreamers. If you sell excellent legal work, you’ll get excellent lawyers. KW

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