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How law firms can attract technology gurus

By: DOLAN MEDIA NEWSWIRES//February 27, 2013

How law firms can attract technology gurus

By: DOLAN MEDIA NEWSWIRES//February 27, 2013

By Elizabeth Millard
Dolan Media Newswires

Although some industries still have a glut of talent and limited job openings, technology experts tend to be the most popular people at the dance. Because law firms have come to rely on tech-driven strategies — with electronic discovery promising to be even more important in the future — individuals who can drive IT initiatives, align case law with emerging technology, or leverage mobile technology are highly sought after.

That’s good news for tech professionals, but challenging for law firms. With large companies scooping up local professionals through healthy salary and bonus packages, smaller firms may have a tough time competing for talent, especially if tech professionals don’t consider legal firms during job searches.

But all is not lost. Here are three top tips on attracting technology talent, no matter your firm’s size or specialty:

Participate in the tech community

Even if a firm has been paper-based in the past (or present), creating a presence in the local technology scene is an easy way to attract talent, according to Shavani Khanna, a software development manager at St. Cloud, Minn.-based W3i, which specializes in helping developers monetize their mobile apps.

Khanna has been involved with hiring at the fast-growing firm for the past three years, and she’s found that the large number of local technology events and user groups provide an opportunity for connecting with tech professionals. The company hosts a user group in St. Cloud, Minn., which is basically a way for techies there to network and share ideas, and Khanna says that many of the attendees end up joining the company.

Conferences provide another opening, she said.

“There are so many great conferences that are free and give you a chance to meet the talent you’re seeking,” she said. “These get-togethers are the perfect place to network for your organization.”

Conference sponsorship is a good way to get your company name circulating, but attendance can be even more important, says Jacqueline Urick, founder of Minneapolis-based game compatibility startup HappiMatch and managing director of Girls in Tech Minneapolis. “If you can’t attend the event yourself, please don’t send your HR person,” she advises. “Send your tech people out there to represent your company.”

Make your tech job more attractive

There’s a breadth of technology-related roles in a company, from basic tech support to comprehensive IT strategy development. If you’re not getting any candidates for an open position, it might be because the definition of that role is too narrow. More importantly, the job duties might seem too limited to technologists, who prefer to think creatively and need a great deal of independence.

“These are the type of people who can work on their own and who want a job that allows them a certain level of freedom,” says Ben Edwards, co-founder of Minneapolis-based SmartThings, a developer of home automation technology. “For younger developers in particular, knowing that there’s some room to grow and explore within that position is important.”

At W3i, for example, Khanna started the concept of Innovation Friday, when every engineer gets to work on whatever they want that day, even if it’s a pet project unrelated to their usual duties. The concept has been such a success that it’s spread to other parts of the organization, encouraging employees to pursue their passion and curiosity.

When it comes to legal technology, giving an IT professional looser reins to explore different options will likely be seen as a fun challenge rather than a daunting prospect. Lean toward talking about independence and role expansion in an interview, and the reward could be a creative, entrepreneurial type of IT staffer.

Loosen up employee chat on social media

Many firms still see social media like Facebook and Twitter as time killers in the office environment, and a major threat to productivity. But that attitude could be sabotaging efforts at employee attraction and retention, believes Nancy Lyons, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Clockwork Active Media, a digital agency that’s hired about 40 technology professionals within the past couple years.

“Unfortunately, some companies are still under the impression that control is a good thing, and that they need to be controlling their message at every level,” she says. “But they’re so focused on locking things down that they miss a chance to engage with some really interesting prospects.”

If employees like where they work and talk about their enjoyment on social media, it can go a long way toward creating a positive impression of the company, Lyons says. Obviously, digital chatting about pending cases or clients should be prohibited, but encouraging employees to connect with others in the industry as well as each other online can make a company culture sound very appealing.

“No amount of marketing and recruiting can equal the impact of a single endorsement in a personal conversation with a friend,” says Lyons. “If that happens online, it resonates with a broader base of technology professionals.”

Elizabeth Millard is a technology writer whose work has appeared in Business 2.0, eWeek, Linux Magazine and TechNewsWorld.


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