Holding Your Recruiter to a Higher Standard

Holding Your Recruiter to a Higher Standard

Whether you are the employer-client or the attorney-candidate, you want your legal search consultant to handle your search honorably. One of the ways you can help ensure that your recruiter plays by the rules is to ask whether the search firm is a member of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) or, at least, follows the principles of its Code of Ethics®.

NALSC (the National Association of Legal Search Consultants) is a voluntary professional association, and the only one representing the legal search profession. Founded in 1984, it is a national organization with more than 200 members from the United States, Canada, and Europe. In addition to legal search firm members, a growing number of law firms are Supporting Members of NALSC.

NALSC Code of Ethics®

What sets NALSC members apart is that, as a condition of membership, they must agree to be bound by the Code of Ethics®. The Code is available on the NALSC website and is divided into four Articles (sections): (1) Relations with Employers; (2) Relations with Candidates; (3) Relations Among Members; and (4) General.

Non-member search firms can choose to follow the principles of the NALSC Code of Ethics®, but they cannot technically “abide” by the Code without being subject to its enforcement process, which applies to NALSC members only. Of course, there are many excellent, effective, and ethical legal search firms that are not members of NALSC. They may have their own business reasons for not joining, or just have not given NALSC membership due consideration.


NALSC has a formal – and confidential – complaint process whereby alleged violations are considered and formally addressed. There is a complaint form on the NALSC website. This form provides an opportunity for the complainant to explain the alleged facts of the situation and identify the purported violator.


  • Any individual or entity can file a complaint based on a potential violation of the Code of Ethics; you do not have to be a NALSC member.
  • You can file a complaint against NALSC-members only; NALSC has no jurisdiction over non-member search firms.

Many law firms recognize NALSC’s work in promoting ethics in all facets of the legal recruiting process and increasingly include compliance with the NALSC Code of Ethics® in their agreements with search firms as a requirement for doing business together. This demonstrates a positive, welcome, and growing movement by law firms to demand heightened ethical behavior by search firms. Despite signing a fee agreement that requires compliance with NALSC’s Code of Ethics®, however, if a search firm is not a member of NALSC, it technically is not covered by the Code since the search firm did not agree (as a condition to becoming a NALSC member) to be subject to its enforcement provisions.


One primary goal of NALSC is to elevate the standards of the legal search profession, and a key element is compliance with the Code of Ethics® and its enforcement procedures which is as follows:

  • Once the online complaint form is completed, the complaint is sent confidentially to the NALSC President and the Ethics Committee. Three to four members of NALSC’s Board of Directors sit on Ethics Committee at any given time.
  • The Ethics Committee reviews the complaint and determines whether it: (1) appears valid and warrants further inquiry; (2) has no basis because it contains insufficient or unreliable information; or (3) appears frivolous.
  • If the Ethics Committee determines that a potential violation may have occurred, the Committee first notifies both the Complainant and the Respondent (potential violator). It then conducts an investigation into the specific facts or circumstances to clarify, expand, or corroborate the information provided in the complaint.
  • After gathering the required facts, a telephone hearing is conducted (the parties have the right to counsel should they so choose). During the hearing, both sides have the opportunity to present the facts and their positions.
  • After the hearing, the Ethics Committee decides whether the complaint should be dismissed or whether a violation occurred.
  • If a violation occurred, the Ethics Committee determines appropriate sanctions for the member search firm. Sanctions vary depending on the circumstances and can range, for example, from censure to suspension or expulsion from the Association.
Limited Remedy

Please note that NALSC can determine only whether its Code of Ethics® has been violated and, if so, apply the appropriate sanction. Enforcement of the NALSC Code of Ethics® does not replace or supersede any contractual causes of action that are appropriate for civil litigation.

If you ever want clarification on an ethical issue related to legal recruiting or wish to discuss a potential violation of the NALSC Code of Ethics® before possibly filing a complaint, you are welcome to contact the Chair of the NALSC Ethics Committee. Your inquiry will remain strictly confidential.

Valerie Fontaine
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