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Hiring remains steady despite the shaky economy

Despite an uncertain economy, legal and accounting firms in Rochester are hiring across their service base. Many employers focus on the prospective opportunities that new employees can offer the company rather than filling a specific position.
 
"We have had steady growth over the past five years," says Elizabeth Hofmeister, director of legal recruiting and development at Harter Secrest & Emery LLP. "We have hired five new attorneys, (and) we currently have three openings in corporate employee and intellectual property areas.
 
"We are conservative in who we hire, but we also make room for terrific people."
 
Hiring practices also correlate to client needs.
 
"It’s an ebb and flow like any other business, and we certainly have areas of our business that are very solid, like commercial real estate, corporate work. Another hot area that we are adding attorneys in is the health services area," says Jim Spitz Jr., CEO of Harris Beach PLLC. "Health services, labor, the litigation area and intellectual property are certainly our growing areas."
 
Harris Beach will add a total of 14 employees to its legal staff by the end of the year. Currently it has hired eight attorneys, four of whom are new graduates. Six more attorneys will join the legal team in September.
 
While resumes are one indicator of an individual’s capabilities, many firms are evaluating a candidate’s social skills as an important factor in helping their company grow and keep its client roster.
 
"The main thing we look for is personality," says Tracey Rink, a partner at Kasperski Owens & Dinan CPAs LLC. "That is the No. 1 thing. The ability to be on a team and to have good relationships with clients has always been a focus."
 
Recent college graduates and older applicants are integrated into law and accounting firms each year, allowing these employers to expand with a mix of both experience and technological skills.
 
The Bonadio Group, which adds 50 to 60 people each year, places an emphasis on soft skills during the recruiting process, says Thomas Bonadio, managing partner and CEO.
 
"When we go out to recruit on college campuses, we are not looking for the smartest kid in the class; we are not looking for the 4.0s," Bonadio says. "We are really putting a lot more emphasis on the soft skills. We can teach them accounting, but we can’t teach somebody how to be personable."
 
The required credentials will not get a job applicant very far. Firms are not only viewing the candidate individually but are taking into consideration how the candidate will contribute to the team within the firm.
 
"Since lawyering is an individual skill, our focus (is) hiring somebody who has not only the academic skills and that type of thing but (who will) have the other attributes that make a person successful," Spitz says.
 
What sets candidates apart is demonstrated ability to be successful with interactions in professional settings. Client relationships are a big focus for accountants and lawyers across Rochester.
 
"I always tell the professors that they ought to be giving more psychology courses than accounting courses because our business is a lot more about the ability to deal with people inside and outside," Bonadio says. "Understanding how people react and knowing what to say and when to say it-that’s much more important to us in the long term than someone who can put the debits and the credits in the right place."
 
When legal and accounting firms begin to recruit new people, many do not have to look farther than their own offices.
 
"We’ve gone to more of an intern philosophy, so we’d like to get at least half of our new people through the intern program," Bonadio says. "Internships help us a lot; it’s like a six-month interview. By the time we hit the recruiting season, we probably have already made at least half of our hires for next year.

The ability to test candidates’ skills before bringing them on officially can filter out candidates who are not a good fit for the company.
 
"The absolute most important skill is to have had a strong hands-on internship," says Nicole Donald, Rochester branch director at Robert Half International Inc., an employee placement firm. "Without that hands-on experience, you just can’t compete."
 
Candidates often set themselves apart simply by doing their research. Local firms expect applicants to have basic knowledge about the company that they can discuss in an interview. Finding positions in a leaner job market has become more competitive as companies have adapted to the economy by using fewer employees to achieve the same output.
 
"There is so much knowledge out there with the Internet and Google, and interviewers are assuming a candidate is coming into the interview with a base of knowledge about their company," Donald says. "We are making sure our clients are not just a number or a resume."
 
For both legal and accounting firms, technology has played a role in the hiring process. An applicant’s ability to have face-to-face communication skills as well as a grasp of the technological opportunities to help clients is seen as imperative for success in local firms.
 
"Technology over the last 10 years has really played a huge role, and I think the law firms got caught a little behind the curve," Spitz says. "Clients are looking for us to provide services that give them value for less money; the efficiencies of the technology are clearly driving the legal practice."

Kerry Feltner is a Rochester Business Journal intern.

9/20/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected].

 

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