Law Firm Management

Let’s Talk About Recruiters

Lawyers struggle to attract talent who are both capable and a good fit for a firm’s culture.

If only there were consultants who firms could retain and candidates could work with, who understand the market, the culture in different firms and practice groups, the current salaries being paid by firms of all sizes, and the expectations of law firms and candidates on a multitude of issues, including work from home, vacation entitlement, bonuses, and billable hour requirements.

Wouldn’t that be grand?

I spoke to Louise Woollcombe of Sterling Legal Search Incorporated about this stuff, and here is what I learned:

  1. There are good and bad recruiters. A good recruiter listens and asks questions. It’s not just about subject matter and years of experience. Firm/company culture and fit are at least as important. A good recruiter has depth of knowledge (gained from years of experience) and can advise on the market. For example, they may let you know that a firm has a poor track record advancing women, and they don’t place people who are concerned with work/life balance at a sweat shop.
  2. There are the “volume shops” that charge less, but you get what you pay for. They spend less time working to ensure a great match. They rely heavily on ads, take the shot gun approach, and toss in anyone hoping something will stick. The better shops know more, go deeper, work harder, and do a better job.
  3. Recruiters are usually not going to help much with lawyers who have only been at it for one or two years. They are typically paid to find expertise which takes some time to develop.
  4. Great recruiters also understand the culture in the practice groups that they are asked to recruit for. Ask the recruiter about various big names in your practice area. If they don’t know them, move on. I mentioned to Louise that at my friend Martin’s firm, there was one practice group leader who cycled through Associates and that eventually recruiters would not place candidates for them. Louise knew who I was talking about, without me even mentioning the person’s name. 
  5. Good recruiters understand law firm dynamics and do not always encourage people to leave firms to search for greener pastures.  However, there are times when lawyers have to move on. Louise gave me the example of a Senior Associate locked in a supporting role who had to move so that they would not always be “Bob’s junior” instead of a star in their own right.
  6. A good recruiter will give HONEST advice. When a lawyer approaches them with an unrealistic view of the market, they are not shy to suggest staying and trying to tweak something in their current situation. It doesn’t line the recruiter’s pocket but hopefully builds goodwill.

Smart firms and candidates do not love or hate recruiters. They recognize the value that they can bring and use them judiciously.

Oh, and work with a good one!

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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