Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Maritime law firm’s student recruitment video a hit on YouTube

originally published in Lawyers Weekly

“Yes, that’s my backyard,” Tara Erskine laughed. “That’s my grill.”

How does a Toronto-based writer like me get acquainted with an East Coast lawyer’s backyard? Via the web. Erskine, a labour and employment partner and Manager of Legal Human Resources for Halifax-based McInnes Cooper, regularly hosts firm events, and the 2007 bash made the firm’s online recruiting video.

Online corporate videos are nothing new. Dave Sciuk, Managing Director, Ontario Region for executive search firm The Counsel Network, says videos like these are noteworthy. “They are like an effective PowerPoint presentation,” he said. “They deliver four or five messages that you want to communicate.”

Among law firms, New York-based Choate, Hall & Stewart may have earned the best online buzz by aping Apple Inc. ads, substituting an extraordinarily smug Choate associate and a ridiculously hapless “Megafirm” lawyer (both actors) for the bantering computer systems.

Where the Choate effort was quarterbacked by an outside agency, McInnes Cooper’s video was home grown. Granted, the Halifax firm boasts impressive internal filmmaking talent in articled clerk Mark Purdy and law student Kate Mullan.

When Purdy returned from a summer film studies stint in New York City, people at the firm suggested he produce a new corporate video, so he and Mullan got to work.

After running focus groups to determine the video’s contents, then writing and producing over several months’ worth of free time, they came up with a video that begins and ends with a job-interview skit featuring McInnes Cooper tax litigator (and sometimes actor) Dan Wallace.

Wallace took one for the team. Actually, he took ten – splashes, that is, from a car driving through a puddle so the film crew could capture the event from different angles.

That incident drove the skits at the beginning and end of the video. The cream of the Oreo included scenes from Erskine’s backyard barbeque, a firm hockey game, a charity run, a rafting trip and views of McInnes Cooper’s fabulous downtown office, which features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Halifax Harbour.

The video garnered a lot of attention from Atlantic Canadian law students when first launched, but Erskine says it took on a life of its own when the firm put it on YouTube.

For the uninitiated, YouTube quickly became the world’s most popular video sharing site soon after its 2005 birth. In 2006, Google played its “if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em” card and acquired the upstart for USD1.67 billion.

One reason for this price tag is the continuing lock Youtube seems to enjoy on the valuable 18-35 demographic. Ensconced in this group are summer law students, hence the logic of posting recruitment videos.

Erskine couldn’t name any pitfalls to the scheme, but she prevented one that might have detracted from the video – she turned off the ability for viewers to comment. “If you permit it, you open yourself up to people who don’t like you, and say nasty things,” said Peter Marx, president of marketing firm Legal Insight Media, Inc.

That didn’t prevent people from commenting on their own blogs – favourably. While McInnes Cooper is already known at recruiting events for the branded cookies it serves to prospects, it seems people enjoy the firm’s digital cookies as well. The video has been seen more than 4,000 times. Erskine found American blogs linking to it with comments like “Wow, where is this firm?” “Their offices look great!” and “Do their lawyers really wear gowns to court?”

However, Sciuk points to the committees and partners charged with recruitment as evidence of YouTube’s limited usefulness in recruiting, particularly for laterals. “Recruiting is a personal process,” he said.

Web 2.0 phenomena such as Youtube, Facebook and Second Life excite marketers, but best practices for businesses that want to leverage the interactive web have yet to emerge. “Nobody has found a formula,” said Marx.

Canny online video producers do avoid certain traps. Poor-quality videos are blatant invitations for mocking. The same goes for stiff infomercials that feature the “hostage video” look of head shots being desks. “Students know when they’re being sold to,” said Erskine.

And Youtube itself might not mesh with the patrician image certain firms carefully cultivate.

Yet Marx opines every law firm should use the medium. “It’s where law students live,” he said. “You have to meet them on their turf to relate to them.”

“You can do a nice glossy brochure that looks pretty and costs a lot of money,” said Erskine, “but it won’t generate the interest that we want and that students look for when they decide where they want to practice law.”

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