You are a General Counsel or a senior legal counsel and after too many months of filling multiple roles in your legal department and almost as many months making the business case for an increase in headcount, you’ve finally received approval to hire a new lawyer for your team. What now? Before, you post job ads in the Ontario Reports and Lexpert Magazine or call your legal recruiter; the first step is to create an accurate and effective job description for the position.

A written job description is a multi-purpose document that provides a descriptive summary of the accountabilities and deliverables of a position and has utility across a wide range of human resource management functions. In addition to creating a job description whenever a new job is created, it is also good management practice to review and update existing job descriptions whenever a job’s responsibilities change or when a job’s reporting relationship changes in order to verify that the position’s responsibilities and reporting relationships are accurate.

This short article presents the key functions and benefits of a job description and provides an annotated checklist of its essential elements. At the end of this article, I’ve provided a link to a downloadable ‘Form of Job Description’ for a corporate counsel position that you are welcome to use as a template for creating your own job descriptions.

A. Key Functions and Benefits of a Job Description

1. Recruitment Tool

A job description provides the General Counsel or direct supervisor with job information for posting and advertising a job for recruitment purposes. A job description should, not only provide the basis for determining selection criteria and competencies, it should do so in a way that identifies the most marketable qualities of the position. It will also help interviewers formulate appropriate interview questions. The job description is also a marketing tool which will help you attract, assess and hire the right person for the job.

2. Compensation/Budget Management

A job description assists in determining the appropriate classification and compensation for a particular job. They are also necessary for developing and maintaining equitable and competitive compensation programs and assist the General Counsel with determining the most effective and efficient strategy for allocating the budget between external legal counsel and inhouse personnel.

3. New Employee Orientation

A job description is an essential tool for the General Counsel/supervisor to explain and clarify key reporting relationships, accountabilities to key business units and expected deliverables of a job to a new legal counsel. The initial orientation process is especially important when transitioning a lawyer that was previously in private practice into a new in house legal counsel role with entirely different job expectations.

4. Employee Performance Management and Development

It can be exceedingly difficult to develop performance standards without a detailed description of a job and its essential functions. A job description provides a basis of understanding between the General Counsel/supervisor and the employee about the responsibilities, objectives and priorities of a position. It serves as a means of communication for improving work planning and feedback. In addition, a job description provides the standards for tracking and managing performance, that in turn form the basis of performance appraisals and reviews. Performance management will support management decisions relating to promotions, salary increases, performance bonuses or discipline, counselling and termination. Formal, up-to-date job descriptions reduce misunderstandings regarding job duties, responsibilities and performance standards.

5. CLE and training

Continuing legal education and non-legal training requirements for a job must be actively assessed to ensure that the employee is equipped to meet the job requirements. A change in responsibilities may result in the need for skills upgrading and revisions to the job description.

6. HR/Organizational Planning

General Counsel/supervisors and HR mangers may use job descriptions for organizational planning, wage and salary surveys and reviews, human resource planning and development and occupational studies for statistical purposes.

B. The Essential Elements of a job description? An Annotated Checklist

A job description should articulate the results of the work assigned to a position; it should not describe how the work is done or the process and procedure to be followed. If such details are included, the job description will require constant monitoring and revision when ever these details change.

  1. Position Title and Location – identify the job title and the physical office location
  2. Supervisor’s Position Title – identify the direct supervisor for the position by title only
  3. Purpose of the Position – describe the basics function and purpose of the position and describe the function legal department in the context of the enterprise as a whole. It is not necessary to describe what the position does, but focus on establishing a context for the position and the legal department.
  4. Minimum Qualifications – list the essential qualifications such as a law degree, Ontario or other bar qualification, minimum numbers of years of legal experience and any other qualifications that are necessary to satisfy the job requirements.
  5. Non-essential qualifications/skills – list any qualifications or skills that would be valuable to an employee in the position (such as : proficiency in other languages, qualification in another Canadian or perhaps a US state bar, advance degrees in subject matter areas relevant to the business of the company such as an engineering, science or finance or technical non-legal work experience).
  6. Specific responsibilities and duties – identify the key responsibilities and duties that the position is accountable for. It may be useful to first break down the position into the main types of legal subject matter that the job will be responsible and then prioritize these responsibilities and duties based on the percentage of the total practice each subject matter area will require.
  7. Key relationships/organizational chart – identify and describe the nature of the key departmental, internal and external relationships that the employee in the position will be expected to develop and maintain. The internal relationships with key business people in the main business groups that the legal counsel will be expected to advise and counsel should be clearly identified.
  8. Financial responsibility and authority – outline financial responsibilities for planning, managing or monitoring external legal budgets as well as departmental personnel management responsibilities.
  9. Compensation/Benefits – outline the compensation details for the position, including both monetary compensation such as base salary, performance/retention bonus and pension/RRPS contribution plans and non-monetary compensation such as paid vacation, health and medical benefits, etc.
  10. Date prepared/Date approved – identify who and when each job description was prepared and when and by whom each job description was approved.

In addition to the essential elements enumerated above, it is important to remember that a job description is also a marketing document. In-house lawyers often become so familiar with their own organizations that they focus entirely on the specific responsibilities and duties and often fail to include the ‘sizzle’ when drafting a job description. Don’t miss out on a great marketing opportunity, a well crafted job description that is prepared with care and attention will increase the likelihood that you recruit the right candidate into your team and it will also increase your organization’s profile and strengthen its brand within the legal community.

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