Why Use a Partner Recruiter?

When considering a move between firms at the partner level, working with a successful career recruiter can both ease the process as well as help to ensure the best possible result both in finding the right fit as well as financially. During this process the recruiter can help identify specific firms that fit set parameters as well as additional needs that the partner may not be aware of. With longtime relationships with a large network of firms in the Southern California area, the recruiter at The Jameson Group will also act as a go-between with the firm and partner throughout negotiations, which is particularly important to prevent misunderstandings.

Going through a recruiter also guarantees that the partner will have an active, positive proponent consistently in contact with the firm whereas even if they have an existing connection to someone at a given firm they may not necessarily put their own reputation on the line to promote the partner as a good hire. During negotiations, the recruiter will also help to prepare a business plan based on the specific needs of the partner and what they can bring to the firm. Finally, they will do their utmost to help the partner close the best possible deal.

How to Develop a Portable (Legal) Book of Business

Developing and maintaining a portable book of business is critical to the long-term growth and flexibility for the majority of law-firm lawyers. By constructing a legal book of business, a lawyer can ensure a higher level of understanding, communication, and collaboration with clients while at the same time securing revenue sources independent from their respective firm. This individually sourced revenue can also help provide lawyers with more career options both at their current firms and otherwise, especially in hard times economically.

Whereas before the turn of the millennium it was rather rare for partners to switch law firms, today it was effectively become commonplace for a variety of reasons. The first and most obvious concern when considering switching law firms is that of compensation. This factor is directly tied to the lawyer’s book of business, which dictates the potential revenue they can bring and can provide powerful leverage in such a situation.

However, building a large book of business as part of a larger firm can prove especially difficult considering that many such firms primarily take on cases in the millions or tens of millions of dollars, eclipsing a single partner’s stake. As such, the relationship between the lawyer and the client has become more critical than ever and as we move further into the digital age social media has become an increasingly necessary tool to maintain these relationships. Most clients tend to award their accounts to those they know and trust, so cultivating these relationships by devoting a weekly period of time to client development can prove invaluable.

While Twitter, Facebook, and especially LinkedIn play important rules in extending your network today, in building a book of business it is important that you do not only rely on these rather impersonal methods of communication; things such as networking events or even a simple holiday card could be a very successful way for associates and junior associates to move their careers forward. Furthermore, speaking appearances on a particular subject or field of work as well as traditional publishing routes can provide additional differentiation from the pack and thus options.

When Recruiters Attack: Part 3

With today’s blog entry we finish up our three-part series on the ins and outs of working with a legal recruiter.  With parts I and II we looked at the reasons a partner might find themselves considering a move from their current firm and we discussed the benefits of working with an experienced headhunter as opposed to going it alone.  But how does one know whether the voice at the other end of the phone belongs to a talented, informed professional or just some schmuck with a lead list and a speed-dialer?  While there’s no absolute litmus test, there are some basic rules of thumb.

We’ll start by saying it’s unrealistic to expect any recruiter to know everything about you or your prospective firms.  However, they should have a strong sense of your practice (i.e. your areas of expertise, your work history, your typical clients/industries, etc.) as well as a solid grasp of why a particular opportunity might be right for you.

Odds are your first contact with any legal recruiter will be an email or voicemail message.  We can begin the winnowing process here.  Simply put, the recruiter should know who you are and what you do—i.e., does the opportunity presented actually match your skill-set and area of focus?  As an example, if you’re a healthcare partner with a practice primarily representing doctors and hospitals but you’ve been contacted about a payor-side opportunity, you clearly have someone who hasn’t done their homework.  This is probably a recruiter simply working their way down a list rather than an expert engaged in a focused search.

Between your firm profile, your LinkedIn page (if you don’t have one, you should; please see our November 7th blog), press releases, news items and any articles you may have authored, your professional life is no longer a closed book.   In the information age there is no excuse for a legal recruiter to be unfamiliar with who you are or what you do.  The most useful and telling question you can ask any recruiter is a simple one:  Why did you decide to call me?  To be sure, every headhunter will have an answer; the question is whether it’s a good one.

If the recruiter truly understands the firm and position they are soliciting—and why your experience makes you a good potential candidate—they should be able to respond to this question quickly and clearly.  This will generally be the recruiter who has sat down with the firm’s management and relevant practice heads and who has an insider’s understanding of what the firm seeks in a lateral hire.  They should also have a good working knowledge of how a given firm functions, from compensation structure to office culture, sufficient to give you comfort in the first couple of minutes.  If a recruiter seems uncertain on any of these core issues, you’re probably talking to the wrong person.

Bottom line, if a recruiter has bothered to do their research before ever picking up the phone, they’re likely someone worth your time.  Neither of you will know whether a particular opportunity is truly right for you until you’ve had a substantial conversation, but working with someone who understands your practice is always a good start.

If your initial contact with a recruiter has given you comfort and you find the opportunity presented to be intriguing, ask about their placement history with the firm.  Have they ever placed a partner with this particular office?  If so, how long ago?  Is that partner still there?  The best recruiter will not always be the one on retainer or the one with the extensive placement history, but, if nothing else, both speak to the firm’s confidence and familiarity with that particular recruiter.  What matters most is that you’re dealing with someone who has a handle on your practice and understands how this new opportunity will differ qualitatively from your current position.
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There’s no doubt that we now live in a global economy and, while you probably won’t get solicited by a recruiter hailing from another continent, you may very well get calls from headhunters working in other parts of the state or even other parts of the country.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Recruiters can, and do, become experts on markets other than their own and an unfamiliar area code alone shouldn’t dissuade you from talking with them.  If you get a call from a Chicago-based recruiter who just happens to have placed five partners in Los Angeles over the past two years, odds are they have a strong working knowledge of the local firms, players and industries despite their non-local address.

Again, it comes down to information and experience.  If you do get a call from an out-of-town or out-of-state recruiter, test their knowledge of your market.  If you’re a transactional partner focused on capital markets, ask who heads the corporate practice in the local office and how your practice would fit in.  Has the recruiter actually spoken directly with any of the local partners?  If so, who, and what have they expressed regarding local needs?  Who would you likely meet with if you did decide to sit down with the firm?  How big is the local office and what are their growth objectives?  What other practice areas are represented in the office?  If the individual at the other end of the line can’t readily answer these questions, move on.  Regardless of your market, there are sure to be many other recruiters, whether local or otherwise, who know it well and can add value to your search.

So what if you find yourself with two (or more) recruiters presenting you with attractive positions at different firms?  It’s not unheard of for a partner to work simultaneously with multiple recruiters but it’s probably not the most efficient means to approach an already complex process.  If possible, focus your efforts with a single recruiter you trust and with whom you’re comfortable working.  If contact with other headhunters has you concerned that a good potential firm has been overlooked, discuss it with your current legal recruiter.  There may be a very good reason he or she omitted that option.  If not—and if you feel some other recruiter has a stronger connection and clearer line of communication with the firm—you can always let them present you.

In any case, if you do plan to work with multiple legal recruiters, communication and honesty will be your best policies.  It’s up to you how much you share with each individual but keeping everyone involved reasonably informed will avoid redundant efforts and crossed lines.  Think of it this way, if you can’t trust one of your recruiters with a complete picture of your search endeavors then that’s probably one recruiter worth losing.

Now that we’ve wrapped up this series, a final note on the lateral process in general.  Like any other fundamental change in perspective, once you begin to view your current firm as one of many options—as opposed to the only option—it will never look quite the same again.  Meeting with other partners in other shops might lead to the realization that a move is inevitable and something you should have done long ago, or might just as easily leave you appreciating your current firm like never before.  In either case, the process will be an eye opener.

When Recruiters Attack: Part 2

We recently began a series of short articles on the how, when and why of working with a legal recruiter.  Now some may say (pessimistically, we think) that, as recruiters ourselves, we can’t help but be a little biased on the subject.  That’s probably true; after all, if we didn’t believe in the value of legal recruiting, we’d almost certainly be doing something else.  But we’re going to do our best to be honest and objective (you can let us know how we do with your feedback).

In Part I we opened with an illustration of the partner whose decade-plus practice was surviving without really thriving, and the fundamental change in perspective that resulted once he sat down and considered where he was and where he might go.  But what about the partner who knows it’s time to move on from his/her current firm and is committed to taking the leap: should they embark on the journey alone or with the assistance of a recruiter?  While we think the answers are a resounding “No” and “Yes!” respectively, let’s discuss why that is by looking at what a recruiter can—and can’t—provide.

First and foremost, a recruiter should be a source of quality intelligence, offering insight and information that might not be available anywhere else.  Every recruiter worth their noise-cancelling headphones knows the importance of keeping an ear always to the ground.  It allows us to listen for creaks and groans in the market and to decipher whether it’s the sound of emerging opportunity or impending doom; the ability to read between the headlines and behind the rumors is imperative to our success and to the success of the attorneys we assist.

But just as often, information comes to us far more directly.   In a typical year we meet with twenty or thirty firms, very often at their request, to discuss what has—and hasn’t—worked regarding their recruiting efforts.  These frank discussions with managing partners and practice heads provide us with a detailed picture of each firm’s strengths and weaknesses as well as a first-hand sense of internal culture.  This is insight you simply can’t glean from content-approved press releases or the “About Us” page on the firm’s website.

Early access to this information will save you what you can least afford to squander–your time and effort.  Knowing which firms are most likely to align with your interests and compliment your practice will be invaluable in focusing your search.  An experienced recruiter should also be able to provide a sense of what value your book and practice represent in the current market and how best to present each to maximize results.

But remember, even with this direction, the partner job search is far from an absolute science.  No amount of research can replace what you’ll learn from that first face-to-face.  In the end, you will have to meet with firms and develop your own sense of fit and comfort, but a good recruiter can guide you through the process with far more efficiency and far less pain.

Once you have begun to speak seriously with prospective firms, a capable recruiter will make sure things move at an appropriate pace.  While any decision as important as changing firms should be approached with due care and patience, we’ve learned that time—at least long, silent stretches of it—is not your friend.  If the lateral process is allowed to stagnate, it can be far too easy for all parties involved to forget exactly why it is they sat down at the table to begin with.

Even in the best of cases and with the greatest of enthusiasm on all sides, the lateral hire life cycle is typically sluggish and fraught with delay.  It is also likely to coincide with any number of professional emergencies that demand your time, from the final, frantic days of that buy-side transaction to the case that should never have gone to trial—but now has…in Omaha.  An experienced recruiter can keep the lateral process ball rolling throughout all the foreseeable (and not so foreseeable) interruptions, making sure the deal remains alive and well until you are again ready to give it your attention.  This might mean helping you fill out (and make sense of) interminable lateral partner questionnaires, working with you to construct and polish your business plan (yes, they will ask for a business plan) or simply calling the firm every week to restate just how interested you are and remind them exactly why it is that they love you.

Again, while the skilled recruiter can help immensely with this stage of the process, there are some things we just can’t do for you.  You will be asked to collect information, lots of it, regarding your billing, collections, past clients, current clients, prospective clients, etc.  Aggregating this data is often challenging (and doing so without setting off unwanted alarms at your current firm only makes it more so) but it’s a valuable and necessary exercise.  For many partners, this will be the first time in years or even decades that they’ve really looked at their practice, not just as a series of cases or string of transactions but as an ongoing business unto itself.  You’ll likely walk away with a deeper understanding of your practice and a clearer notion of your strengths as a business generator.

Finally, a recruiter can act as a third-party intermediary when the process needs one.  This can mean taking a hard line during compensation negotiations so you don’t have to or simply making sure both sides communicate clearly and effectively throughout.  Imperative when the typical recruiting effort involves hiring partners, managing partners, executive committees, compensation committees, practice leaders and any number of administrative personnel.  It’s a process during which wires can and do get crossed, frequently.  A quality legal recruiter will keep information flowing in the right direction and with your interests in mind.
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So we’ve now outlined all the reason you should pick up the phone when a recruiter calls.   But, as the title of this series so enticingly implies, when do we teach you to separate the recruiting wheat from the cold-call chaff?  Have patience folks, Part III arrives next week.

When Recruiters Attack: Knowing When To Take That Call…And When Not To

I had originally intended to write this week’s blog on lawyers (more specifically, law firm partners) generating new business and clients.  Specifically, why it’s so important to develop one’s own book of portable business and avoid becoming the “unintentional service partner.”  But I decided against it.

 

Not because it isn’t a valid topic.  It is.  And certainly not because developing a stable of clients whose continuing business—and enduring loyalty—is anything other than imperative, particularly in our current era of eleventh hour mergers, unexpected dissolutions (firms, you know who you are) and now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t market opportunities.  But because it’s just a bit too self-evident to really be useful.  Of course you should strive to develop your own business—every lawyer needs to!  I don’t think that’s really in question.  And in this information age you have more tools at your disposal than any other time in history to identify and reach out to potential clients (see any one of our previous three blogs).

 

So instead of telling you what you already know, I thought we’d give you some insight that might not be so obvious.  Call it the perspective from the other side of the phone, as only as a partner legal recruiter could provide.

 

Odds are, as an attorney and a law firm partner, you receive one, two or ten calls a week (a day!?) from legal recruiters.  You may even have offered your assistant a healthy bonus and a week in your Maui timeshare if he/she proves capable of intercepting and dispatching such calls before they ever reach your ears.  Understandable, particularly when you’re overwhelmed with work and changing law firms is the last thing on your mind.  But it is nearly a statistical certainty that you will change firms at some point in your career—perhaps more than once—and when that time comes, you’ll have some decisions to make.  Should you work with a partner legal recruiter or go it on your own?  If you’re going to work with a partner legal recruiter, which one and how do you choose?  Are there any benefits to working with more than one recruiter?

 

Over the next two or three weeks, we’ll look at each of these questions and draw on our twenty-plus years of recruiting experience to give you our unbiased take.  Well, as unbiased as a recruiter can get.

 

Let’s start by taking one step back and look at the partner who probably should be considering his options but hasn’t realized it yet.  This case can be best illustrated by a real-world example from this year.  A law firm partner we’ve been working with for the past several months.  Let’s call him Mike (not his real name).

 

We first identified Mike while working on a retained search for one of our law firm clients.  They were looking to grow their labor and employment litigation practice and brought us in because we understood both their firm and their market.  Mike had an impressive background, both academically and professionally, and seemed a good potential fit for our search.  This story, as so many recruiting stories do, began with an email and a cold call.  After leaving a couple of messages for Mike we eventually spoke.  We talked for quite a while and I learned that Mike, as a result of mostly self-directed marketing efforts, had steadily built a respectable book of business.  But Mike said he was relatively satisfied where he was and, as the call wound down, told me he’d be happy to meet (“Hey, I’m always open to networking”) but he wanted to manage expectations and make clear he had no intentions of leaving.  We agreed to sit down for a casual coffee the following week.

 

It was obvious after the first fifteen minutes that Mike could do much better.  He was significantly undercompensated given his current portable business, had grown his book as large as he was likely to atop his firm’s platform and was missing significant opportunities for cross-selling.  Perhaps most surprising was the fact that he had clearly never thought about any of this seriously prior to our conversation.  He was almost entirely unaware of competitive salaries, alternative compensation and bonus structures and even the comparative value of his practice within the local market.  After a frank discussion and a hard look at where Mike hoped to take his legal practice, from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective, he agreed with us and decided it made sense to begin exploring his options—he is now being courted by several law firms.

 

While this may seem surprising, it’s not as unusual as you might think.  After all, an attorney’s job is to know the law, service their clients and, if there’s any time left over, develop business.  (And, after that, maybe you have some time for your family too.)  Put simply, unless you’re the managing partner of your law firm, your focus is likely to be the practice of law, not the business of law.

 

This is where a knowledgeable and experienced recruiter can really add value.  If you’ve kept you head down and your nose dutifully to the grindstone for the better part of a decade, you may eventually look up to find the landscape significantly changed.  Partnering with a guide to help you navigate the lateral market is not only advisable but often means the difference between a lucrative, successful, long-term placement and finding yourself back in the market just a few unhappy years down the road.

 

But how to choose?  How does one discern the good from the bad and the ugly?  That will have to wait for our next blog!

 

A Primer For Lawyers To Use LinkedIn To Develop New Clients (Part I)

With the unveiling of The Jameson Group’s new website, it seems only appropriate that our first blog entries address the subject of social media.  Specifically, how social media can be used by attorneys to develop business and facilitate more effective and efficient networking.  Your options for connecting with clients and colleagues via digital media are myriad, but we’re going to start this discussion by focusing on just one service: LinkedIn.  The site has grown exponentially over the past year, and if you’re not already a member, odds are you will be soon.  But, despite the number of legal professionals currently swelling LinkedIn’s ranks, the attorneys we work with often express more than a little uncertainty as to the practical benefits of the site.  We’ve lost count of the number of times a colleague has told us they have a LinkedIn account but they’re not sure why or how to take advantage of it.  The truth is, with a little know-how, the service can be an incredibly effective means of connecting you with the people you need to reach, whether to create new client relationships or strengthen existing ones.   Accordingly, our first two blog posts will focus on helping you better understand and use LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is often described as Facebook for professionals.  The comparison, while certainly oversimplified, is understandable.  After all, both sites allow users to create individual profiles complete with personal photos and lists of interests, each seems to have transitioned overnight from novelty to necessity and in both cases amassing as many connections as possible seems to be the ultimate goal.  If we were to stop there then the comparison would be apt.  Unfortunately, many professionals do just that: they stop there.  But with a basic understanding of LinkedIn’s powerful search functions, turning the site into one’s own personal client-development database is only a few clicks away.  Before we move on to the nuts and bolts of networking on LinkedIn, a quick overview of the site is probably in order.

Let’s consider the numbers.  Since its launch in 2003, LinkedIn has grown in excess of 100 million members, over half of whom reside outside the United States.  The site now gains 1 million new members every ten days – that’s one new user per second (feel free to check my math).  Every one of the Fortune 500 is represented on LinkedIn.  In fact, 499 of them are represented by director-level and above employees.  Additionally, the site’s various users represent 215 different industries globally.  With these stats, it’s hard to debate LI’s networking potential.  But for many attorneys, being a member of LinkedIn can be a bit like maintaining a high-end gym membership:  you initially joined because so many of your friends and colleagues were already there, you feel vaguely guilty for not using it to better results and, when you do show up, without some expert assistance, you’re not entirely sure what you should be doing.  The purpose of this blog is to address that last issue.  While you might not be a bona fide LinkedIn expert once we’re through, I do expect you’ll have a much better sense of the service’s value as a practical and powerful tool.

Step One:  Build Your Contacts

The larger your contact pool, the more likely you are to get that sought-after introduction.  So take advantage of LinkedIn’s ability to interface with webmail services such as Google, Yahoo and AOL.  The site will scan your contact list, determine which individuals are currently LinkedIn members and allow you to send a request to connect via the service (simply choose “Contacts” at the top of the page and then “Add Connections”—the service will walk you through the rest).  But a word of caution, your end goal here is to create a group of contacts that you can actually use for referrals, introductions, intelligence, etc.  Be selective.  Only send invitations to those contacts with whom you have a strong relationship.   Ask yourself a simple question:  Would I be comfortable picking up the phone or firing off an email to ask this person for help?  If the answer is no, move on.  Remember, an impressively expansive connections pool will do you little good if it largely consists of weak contacts.

Step Two:  The Search For A New Client Introduction Begins

It’s time to start the search process, so let’s start with a company search.  Our goal will be to find someone among your current connections who can provide a needed introduction to a target client.  Odds are you will be surprised at just who your friends and colleagues know.  And this is the real value of LI, allowing you to utilize contacts you didn’t even know you had, recognizing data points that almost certainly would have otherwise gone unnoticed.  To begin the process, go to your personal profile page and select the blue “Advanced” search option.

You’ll find it at the top of the page quietly sitting on your task bar’s far right edge.  This unassuming hyperlink (rendered in the smallest, least conspicuous text you’re likely to see on the site) will provide you with access to LinkedIn’s powerful and highly customizable search feature.  Once you’ve opened the page, make sure you’ve chosen the “Advanced People Search” tab.  In future blogs, we’ll touch on the site’s other search features but for now we’ll stick with a basic company search.

A quick glance at the page and you’ll see empty text fields at the top and series of categories and check boxes below that allow you to refine your search even further.  Unless you have the site’s Premium pay service, the lower half of the page is largely populated by data filters appearing as ghost icons (links that can be read but not selected).  While these categories allow for very specific results filtering, most searches won’t require their use.  If you find you just can’t live without options like limiting search results to only those Fortune 1000 companies currently sitting in the 251-500 range, then consider upgrading to premium.  For the rest of us, the non-pay search should work just fine.  As mentioned, we’re focusing on a specific company here so you’ll want to find the “Company” text field at the top of the page and insert the name of the organization you’d like to reach (think Boeing, Nike, Medtronic, etc. – you get the idea).

Remember, our objective here is to determine who among your current connections might be able to facilitate contact with your target entity.  We can do this by selecting “Relationships” from the “Sort By” dropdown at the bottom of the page.  Now hit the blue “Search” button and we’re on our way.

You will now have a series of results.  Look them over and get a sense of which seem worthwhile and which don’t.  We’ll explain your results in our next blog entry which we will post next week.

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