Law Firms Go a Bit Hollywood to Recruit the YouTube Generation
Law firms have discovered YouTube.
Well, actually, they have discovered that the law students they are trying to recruit as summer associates watch YouTube, the popular video Web site.
Several firms are trying to parlay that discovery into a hiring tool, creating recruiting videos and Web sites with the look and feel of YouTube. The firms hope to persuade students that their lawyers, and by extension the firms, are young-thinking and hip.
The need to attract top-notch summer associates is crucial; they are the pool from which most new hires are made. More than 19,000 graduates join law firms each year.
So far, the firms’ efforts have run the gamut from simple conversations with summer associates to videos promoting the firm’s expertise or its diversity.
“The videos are still kind of in the early days,” said Brian Dalton, the senior law editor at Vault Reports, which ranks law firms. “A lot of them come off seeming like hostage videos.”
There are exceptions. Choate Hall & Stewart, a Boston firm with about 200 lawyers and more than 100 years of history, has developed a series inspired by the “Mac vs. PC” advertisements from Apple. Rather than associates, actors are used in the Choate ads.
In four spots called “Choate vs. Megafirm,” a hapless male associate at Megafirm is seen variously trying to find his briefcase in one of his employer’s many offices; tied up in boat rope, explaining that the firm placed him in “leveraged lease and ship financing” when he really wanted litigation; and clad in a business suit, pants rolled up, with an inner tube around his waist, on his “working” vacation.
His counterpart, a young female associate at Choate, is rather smug as she explains how life there is different. Just as on YouTube, there are ratings — albeit fake — like the one from a Web poster with the handle, “Jdhound,” who writes, “This are like so professional. Our site not.”
The Choate videos were created by Greenfield Belser, a Washington marketing firm that specializes in law firms. Its president, Burkey Belser, decided to parody the Apple ads in part because of a limited budget. The firm charged Choate $75,000 for the 4 ads and 20 testimonials from 9 summer associates and other lawyers.
Mr. Belser said that he coached the Choate associates to whittle their testimonials to 30 seconds, told from a red-leather armchair meant to tie in with the firm’s choice of red as a branding color. In one testimonial, the law student talks about his participation in a Swedish folk trio; another student talks about her college thesis, on horror films.
In contrast, the recruiting site at Morrison & Foerster of San Francisco challenges law students, asking if they have the “mojo” needed to join the firm.
The site was revamped last year by a finance partner, Anna T. Pinedo, who said the previous version “was boring.”
One link under “achievements” draws the firm’s definition of a phenomenon it calls “rankophilia.” It offers law students the chance to make their own ranks, from ugliest vegetables to most addictive snack foods. The most popular with students? Ugly vegetables.
At Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, a Los Angeles firm where flip-flops are acceptable footwear, attempts to be hip backfired just a bit.
The firm started a Web site, which, among other things, was to feature “A Day in the Life of an Associate.”
The video told the story of Ivey, a young brunette, who is first seen as she develops photos in her darkroom and plays Ultimate Frisbee. Ivey (really an actress) says she has a B.A. from Yale and a J.D. from Stanford, and is seen wearing a form-fitting jersey shirt, blue jeans and chunky necklaces as she consults with the partners.
But when the Web site went live last week, the video did not appear.
“Some of the associates, some of the partners, thought it was too contrived; maybe corny was probably a better word,” said A. William Urquhart, the firm’s hiring partner.
In contrast, associate testimonials at Ropes & Gray, a Boston-based firm, are strictly about the job. The five segments, each a montage of voices lasting about three minutes, begins with one associate intoning, “People with small problems don’t come to Ropes & Gray.” (The firm has about 850 lawyers in five cities in the United States.)
A tool that students have often used in deciding where to apply is Vault.com, which ranks the most prestigious firms, based on Web responses of associates.
At one firm on the list, Sullivan & Cromwell, 16 videos featuring conversations from lawyers appear on the site. Each is a three-minute montage, filmed by Muffie Meyer, a documentary maker whose work has appeared on PBS.
“Law students sometimes have this idea that large prestigious Wall Street firms are filled with the same sort of person,” said Frederic C. Rich, the partner who oversaw the making of the videos.
The videos are meant to telegraph the variety of people who work there. Mr. Rich appears in one video talking about the oratorio he conducted in a conference room at the firm.
In another video, Joseph C. Shenker, the firm’s vice chairman, an observant Jew and a Brooklyn native who graduated from City University of New York, says he does not have the pedigree one would associate with an old-line firm. “The only thing people care about here is the pursuit of excellence,” he says, in conversation with Lisa A. Lofdahl, a lawyer who talks about being openly gay.
Norm Rubenstein of the Zeughauser Group and former marketing officer at three law firms, said the videos were interesting because they aim at “a generation that takes the Web for granted, that values Internet-based social networking.”
“That’s what makes the video ‘conversations’ on the Sullivan site or the mock commercials on Choate’s site so compelling,” Mr. Rubenstein said. “Compared to the traditional iteration of marquee clients, major deals and disputes, these express true personality in ways that are memorable.”