Search Process Q&A
What are the advantages of working with a headhunter? When searching for a job, some candidates attempt to go it alone, find jobs through networking, etc. What value do recruiters add to the job hunt process?
a. A top headhunter should have valuable, non-public information culled from years of talking with attorneys who are both happy and unhappy in a particular environment. It is this year after year information gathering that is a good recruiter’s most value asset.
b. A good headhunter can be the best advocate for a candidate. With specific knowledge of what an employer is seeking (beyond the job specs), experience with what they have responded to in the past and an objective perspective on a candidate’s strengths in the marketplace, a top headhunter can present the strongest argument as to the strength of an individual’s candidacy for a particular job.
c. The consistent follow-up necessary to keep the process from stalling on a hiring attorney’s desk is provided by a headhunter.
d. Only a top recruiter has experience placing with a wide range of firm and non-firm environments that provides the necessary perspective to recommend the best employers for a particular candidate’s goals.
e. Top recruiters have know how to help candidates interview effectively so that the hiring attorneys, who are not trained interviewers, are sure to see what that candidate is actually bringing to the table
f. The best recruiters also have knowledge about how to best negotiate a compensation package with a particular employer.
Candidates benefit greatly by discussing their goals and options with a reputable, experienced recruiter who knows the details of various types of positions and employers’ priorities. Also, candidates that we present to our clients enjoy the advantages of our relationships and ability to advocate on their behalf. Clients trust in the quality of our submissions because we meet most candidates and have a strong sense of their potential fit, not only on paper credentials but also on personal qualities and professional motivation. A good relationship with a search firm can save both the candidate and the employer tremendous time (which is money!) and greatly minimize the risk and resulting costs of an unsuccessful hire.
The job search process can be a confusing one. What general advice would you give to lawyers looking to make a career transition?
The first advice I give to anyone beginning a job search is to identify what their priorities are in a new job. What are the qualities they want in a new environment that are not being satisfied now? What are the qualities in their present environment that they do not want to give up? Once a candidate has a good sense of their priorities, it is easy to identify the jobs that best meet them, to have a clear focus for the search and a prism through which to evaluate the interviews. To simply apply to a list of openings that match a candidate’s background and then to collect job offers is what typically leads to confusion and even more importantly, poor decisions based on what often turn out to be superficial factors.
It is important to keep an open mind. Candidates will sometimes attach to a particular type of position as the ideal without thinking through at a deeper level what they are really trying to accomplish with a career move. We therefore try to help peel away the layers of the onion to determine what will provide true job satisfaction. This can be a lengthy process, which brings me to a second piece of advice ‘ start considering your next move before you have to. Take the time to learn the various types of practice environments, consider carefully what you would keep or change in your current position, and then when you then decide ‘ or need ‘ to make a move, you will be ready with strong market knowledge and a clearer vision for your future.
What are the differences between working in-house versus working at a law firm? What are the pros and cons of each?
Having worked in both settings and placed in both for the past 20 years, I am going to over-generalize, but, with that caveat, I would say that a law firm is best for an attorney who either enjoys having the time to dig into his or her area of law in great depth or one who wants to be in control of his or her own compensation and believes he or she can develop a book of business. In contrast, in house is usually best for an attorney who wants to apply his or her legal expertise within a business setting to solve day to day business problems. In-house requires attorneys who thrive in a team-oriented environment. For an attorney who can work well within a corporate structure and who enjoys a fast-paced environment presenting very wide-ranging issues and responsibilities, in house can be a great fit.
In years past, the clear dividing line between in-house and law firm environments was lifestyle ‘ in-house was seen as an escape from the long hours and pressures of big firm life. To some extent, this is still the case, but as in-house departments have become more leanly staffed, hours have definitely increased. On the other hand, law firms were often seen as the environment of choice for attorneys seeking the most sophisticated, cutting edge work, but this distinction has also become blurred as in-house departments are handling more key matters internally. One difference that has become more pronounced with the jump in big firm associates’ salaries is compensation; candidates from big firms usually need to take a cut in pay to go in-house and the differential varies greatly, depending on the industry. Another ongoing distinction is in the relationship with the business client; attorneys who enjoy focusing strategically on one client’s needs usually prefer in-house settings where they can become an integral, day to day member of the business team.
The legal profession is experiencing a great deal of change right now, due to such factors as technology and the evolving economy. What trends do you see emerging in the market for legal services?
Frankly, the biggest impact technology has had on the legal profession is that it is even more 24/7 than before. As a result, lifestyle issues are driving even more attorneys’ career plans and there are still far fewer lifestyle alternatives in the profession than there were 10 or 20 years ago. The growth of alternative work schedules within larger institutions and of smaller firms with different corporate cultures is a need that eventually will be satisfied. Conversely, the trend toward globalization and continued consolidation is far from over. Therefore, there will be continued movement toward finding the best platform from which to service one’s existing clients and to develop new ones.
A pervasive trend is the use of the internet for candidate recruitment. I see this tool as a double edged sword. On the one hand, internet ads can be useful to identify candidates in an unusual practice specialties or geographic areas or to attract candidates not reached through other methods. Also, many employers advertise on the web, hoping to avoid a search fee. While these can be successful strategies, they cannot replace the value of person to person recruiting by search firms. First, internet ads often yield numerous resumes from unqualified candidates and it takes time to sort them out. Second, choosing simply on the basis of a resume and perhaps a follow-up phone conversation risks wasting the employer’s and the candidate’s time because the overall fit may not be right. Finally, internet ads miss altogether many of the most sought after and attractive candidates ‘ those who are happy where they are and not seeking another position on the web.
What practice areas are hot right now?
Law firms are using this time to focus on partner hiring, particularly of corporate partners with hedge or private equity fund clients, white-collar litigators and real estate attorneys with reliable books of business. At the associate level, the greatest demand is for mid-level associates with corporate transactional experience, good ‘hands on’ litigation or bankruptcy experience or a broad traditional real estate practice.
The recent economic downturn has certainly affected the overall volume of attorney hiring and among the hardest hit are the various corporate specialties directly servicing Wall Street. Fortunately, for in-house hiring, we are still seeing some good hiring activity in other areas including entertainment, tax and ERISA/employment. Of course, the specialty that usually thrives in a down market is bankruptcy.
Aside from practice area, how would you describe the types of candidates who are most in-demand by employers? What qualities do they typically possess?
Clearly, every employer wants an attorney who is smart, hard-working and accommodating with a proven record of success. However, an employer also wants a candidate who is clear about what they are looking for in a job and about what they bring to the table. An employer wants to be confident that he or she can satisfy what is motivating the candidate to seek a new job and that they have a clear sense of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, a candidate must be completely sincere, open and forthcoming.
For in-house, attorneys with about 5-7 years of strong experience in a given practice area are particularly desirable. Employers hiring through recruiting firms usually require top academics and prior experience with a prestigious law firm or corporation, but can have flexibility when attorneys offer solid practical experience in hard to find niche areas. Finally, the importance of personal presentation and ‘chemistry’ with the potential employer cannot be overstated. The candidate who can confidently and clearly articulate a match with the employer’s needs has a huge advantage. This is especially true for in-house, where attorneys practice on the ‘front lines’ with colleagues and the business team
In terms of the candidates that you place, what are their priorities when choosing between prospective employers?
Each candidate’s priorities are surprisingly unique. A particular candidate’s top priority may be lifestyle, compensation, security, room for advancement, strength in a particular sub-specialty, breadth of practice, size of department, reputation of firm, willingness to re-train or even location. Regardless, all of these factors need to be weighed. However, the most important factor ultimately for 99% of candidates is the chemistry with the people with whom they will be working.
Candidates vary in their specific priorities, but among the most common are the desire to increase compensation, focus on specific practice areas, decrease hours, enhance opportunities for advancement in title/responsibility, join a more collegial department, or move to a more stable organization. That said, the underlying motivator we have noticed with most candidates over the years is the desire to work in organizations where they will be valued as professionals and also on a basic human level.
What about attorneys looking to go into the recruiting business? What advice would you offer to them?
I believe very strongly that an attorney who wants to become a recruiter should sincerely want to learn the significant amount of information necessary to provide value-add counsel to candidates and not simply want a flex-time job for lawyers. I came into this industry from practice more than 20 years ago because I believed there was a need for a more professional level of counsel. Unfortunately, since then, I have seen many attorneys come into the industry to earn commissions from placing former colleagues without really knowing enough to help those attorneys make the best long-term choices for their legal careers with very unfortunate life consequences.
A good recruiter also must be a self-starter. Most attorneys I have trained over the years didn’t realize how reactive practice is most of the time and how different it is to have your livelihood depend completely on what you make happen. However, for those who like building close relationships with highly talented attorneys to help them make major life decisions, it’s exceptionally rewarding.
Legal recruiting can be a wonderful profession for attorneys to utilize their legal backgrounds in a ‘people intensive’ environment. Many attorneys are also drawn to the better work/life balance recruiting can offer relative to the practice of law. However, top quality recruiters need to develop and sustain strong relationships with candidates and clients, requiring a great deal of time and a very thick skin! The hiring process can be very sensitive for candidates and clients alike and therefore the capacity to listen closely and respectfully, the integrity to convey information or advice that may cause some resistance and the ability to put your own ego aside are critical qualities. The best recruiters also take a long range view of the placement process ‘ rather than seeking a quick fee, they earn the trust of all parties by placing candidates where they can truly thrive and add value.