Legal Recruiting: “I just Zoomed to say I love you”

With apologies to Stevie Wonder, this doesn’t have the same ring to it does it??

Why the song reference? Let’s begin by asserting that face-to-face meetings have always been the lifeblood of legal recruiting at the partner level.

People meet! Both in and out of the office, coffees, lunches, and dinners were part of routine business development. It only made sense that the industry swiftly embraced video chat platforms like Zoom as the default mode of meeting and recruiting when Covid-19 struck, as I explain in the ABA Journal.

Since writing that piece, I’ve wondered: How is our industry’s zeal for Zoom impacting our ability to build trust and rapport in new relationships? Are we relying too much on Zoom? Do we need to reprioritize the importance of other modes of communication, like the good old-fashioned phone call?

I’ll go ahead and use Zoom like we use Kleenex (there are many video services, but one day we will wax nostalgic about being there when “Zoom” became a noun). Zoom has been a boon to the industry from a business continuity perspective, and there are changes that will likely continue into the future, regardless of virus concerns. However, as Zoom has become the norm, I can’t help but feel there are times when something has been lost, like our ability to focus completely so that we can connect at a deeper personal level.

Study finds Zoom sucks your energy and splits your attention.

The concept of Zoom fatigue, detailed by Stanford University, is a real issue. Researchers found that having to maintain constant eye contact with others is incredibly draining. It is also tiring to take in your reflection while trying to carry on a conversation (Zoom pro tip: Hide your self-view). Video calls split your attention in myriad directions, adding stress and leading to exhaustion.

Contrast the Zoom experience to a phone call. Without all the tech to touch and visual stimulation, you can focus like a laser on the issues at hand. Less distracted, you feel more at ease, which is conducive to cultivating trust and forging friendships. As an example, I was recently rushing to an important  Zoom call, and in the final minute, I realized, to my great delight, that it was a scheduled phone call!  I am sure my cortisol levels dropped substantially. I was immediately more relaxed and soon found, without much effort, I had a more inviting, positive approach to that call. Relaxed focus is better than intense focus when creating and enhancing a relationship is a goal.

Video calls are still valuable and important.

This value predates the pandemic. But I see more clients realizing they are not the end-all-and-be-all to building strategic relationships. Recruiting high-end partners involves delicate issues best addressed with intimate, focused conversations.  Although we have all found efficiencies that many want to preserve going forward (especially involving busy lawyers in different locations), it’s worth being mindful of why certain recruiting elements existed pre-pandemic.

Zoom dominates today. What the typical business meeting will look like down the road is uncertain. While recruiting strategies likely stay tethered to Zoom for overall efficiency, I worry about an all-or-nothing approach. At the partner level, there will be competitive disadvantages for those who adhere too rigidly to video meetings for the sake of convenience.

Pivoting should not be that difficult, and I see it happening today (some). The phone is one of our oldest friends: Virtually all experienced partners have “grown-up” creating significant business (and personal) relationships over the phone. It’s fairly easy to supplement Zoom processes with this older “dial-up” technology. Encouraging follow-up phone calls (i.e. to inquire how the Zoom meeting went, clarifying or adding information, etc.) which paves the way for further personal calls at later stages, would represent a small but valuable change (I am surprised how little this occurs).

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy Zoom and have certainly built relationships on screen. We all know it’s here to stay. But maybe we need to fold back in some traditional phone calls (and face-to-face meetings – when it’s safe to do so). My guilty pleasure in recruiting is comparing the level of competitive ethos among major law firms. To those who want to win – and you know who you are – it’s worth considering the “zig and zag” of communication trends.  If everyone else is zooming, maybe it’s time to zag to make a stronger connection.

Want to discuss? Call me.

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