“You must appease the Fee God!” my first boss in legal recruiting insisted. He meant that, since the client is the one paying the fee, we must make the client happy. Forty years later, I remember those words and do my best to put them into practice.
Although recruiters work for the employer-client, in the process we also provide services to the attorney-candidate. We assist candidates with polishing their résumés, if necessary, brief them about the prospective employers and open positions, prepare them for interviews, and coach them through the hiring process. We don’t charge candidates for these services; rather, we provide them in the course of fulfilling a search on behalf of our clients.
That’s not to say, however, that when we have a great candidate whom we know many of our clients will want to see, that we don’t market that candidate to the max. In those cases, candidate-centric recruiting is a valid way to proceed.
But we are recruiters, so we proactively endeavor to find candidates to fill our clients’ hiring needs.
The trick for us is to have clients and job orders that we believe in. It’s most effective to focus our efforts on searches that are unique in some way or offer something special to the candidate in order to pique their interests. That’s easier with in-house searches, which are more bespoke and are highly desired by candidates than it is with the more typical law firm searches. Our occasional high-level government or non-profit searches fit into the “unique” category, as well.
Over the years, we’ve built a broad, deep, and varied client roster that includes law firm boutiques, as well as mid-sized and regional firms, each of which is relatively easy to differentiate from the pack. But, like most legal search firms, much of our work is on behalf of the “usual suspects” (AmLaw 200 law firms) and we are on the short list of preferred recruiters for virtually all of them.
So, when it seems like all our law firm clients are looking for the same types of candidates, how can we make the specific search we’re working on seem special? The key is that we do our best to get to know our clients well and understand what each can offer to lawyers from associate to partner.
We try to assist our clients in differentiating themselves in the market. We focus on each client’s uniqueness, whether it’s practice mix, client base, billing rates, hours expectations, pro bono commitments, diversity, hours expectations, geographic spread, mentoring/career development programs, partnership track, compensations systems, and so forth. Then we look for candidates who value those differences.
It’s important for us to learn as much as possible about the specific opening, as well. In addition to the information set forth above, we want to know the composition of the department, the personalities of the key partners, and the specific clients and matters to be serviced by the lateral attorney. We also ask about cross-marketing opportunities and how previous laterals have fared there. It’s important for us to match credentials and chemistry, so we ask about culture and the kind of candidate who is most likely to succeed in the firm and the position they are trying to fill.
Armed with information
Our clients can help us help them by providing as much information as possible.
We keep copious notes of client meetings and conversations, as well as information gleaned from our interactions with candidates and prospects. Our database, after decades in business, is quite extensive. We also comb the legal press daily and store relevant information to our computer files to provide research to clients and candidates as they prepare for interviews.
Armed with this information, we are able to communicate why a particular position is right for the specific candidate we are trying to recruit. Prospects will listen if they recognize that we really know what we’re talking about and have the ear of the firm or company for which we’re recruiting.
Making the match
When we genuinely believe that we’re making the right match between candidate, client, and position, we not only make the candidate’s professional life better but also help the client build a successful business by attracting top legal talent—thus appeasing the Fee God—which makes us happy, too.