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.

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.