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The best talent is in the market, not on the market

Posted by: Laurence Simons 04/04/14

Baseball season is here and I cannot wait to take in a game – see the hotdogs sizzling on the grill and hear the crack of a wooden bat. This was not always the case. For many years, I worked as a Recruiting Manager for an Am Law 200 firm in the Midwest, in which capacity I organized the annual baseball outing.  This was at a time when I loathed the game. After learning more about the game, I realized that if you don’t watch closely, you’ll miss the important quick hand signals a catcher gives the pitcher. Carefully measured plays and studying the opponent’s moves will create a competitive advantage that strengthens the potential for a win.

Much like the strategy of baseball, law firms should strategically align themselves with legal search firms for their lateral recruiting to develop a competitive advantage. Simply stated, the best talent is in the market, not on the market. I recently read this statement in an article, and it sums up the necessity of a specialist recruitment consultancy. In order for a law firm to remain competitive and grow its profit margin, it needs to hire the most talented and productive attorneys. But the most productive attorneys are typically not looking for their next career move; they are busy being productive for a competing law firm.  For example, I recently recruited a mid-level associate from a prominent boutique firm.  He was not familiar with my client and initially showed no interest in making a move.

However, when we discussed the opportunity, he became intrigued and open to considering the opportunity.  I submitted his resume and the firm immediately granted him an interview.  He interviewed with multiple attorneys, and they unanimously agreed that he was the most qualified and experienced candidate for the position.  Given the fact that this candidate was not on the market for a new position and was unfamiliar with the law firm seeking such a candidate, there is simply no way that firm would have gained access to him without the help of a specialist recruitment consultancy.

When I first became a law firm Recruiting Manager, I loathed the call from outside search firms and found them to be an annoying interruption in my day.  However, as time went on, I learned more about what these recruiters do, and realized that when I developed a relationship with a select few and shared with them helpful information about my law firm they became my firm’s strongest advocate. They were an active voice that could spread a positive word about my firm. When I received a candidate from a search firm that I knew and trusted, I knew that the candidate has already been screened, and any irregularities or negatives about the candidate were clearly explained in the cover letter.

Moreover, I learned that a search firm professional’s role continues throughout the recruiting process.  A good recruiter will serve as a liaison between the candidate and the law firm during the negotiation process and can field any concerns the candidate may have about the offer or firm in general.

On average, every time a junior-level attorney walks out the door of a law firm, the cost to the firm can be up to one and a half times that attorney’s salary?  The expense of employing an associate with a salary of $150,000 can be as high as is $225,000.  And if the position isn’t filled for a few months, the expense could substantially increase and jeopardize future client work.   Yes, search firm fees are expensive, however when you find a hire that was not considering a move otherwise, that makes the investment was worth its weight in gold. 

Reeling still from the impacts of recession, top talent continues to be leery to make a change.  In order to effectively work with a search firm, a law firm Recruiting Manager must share what makes his or her law firm’s culture unique and identify the traits that will succeed in your environment.  Armed with this knowledge, that recruiter will be able to advertise on behalf of the law firm and identify the best fit for a particular open position. Sifting through unqualified resumes and spending money on advertising that does not guarantee a quality hire and often dramatically delays the process of filling of a position.  Stellar candidates occasionally do apply directly to firms, but more often than not traditional recruiting methods are ineffective use of precious resources.

As Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge; it is understanding.  We are swimming in the former.  We are desperately lacking in the latter.”  As with any successful baseball team, assessing the market and remaining on the cutting edge is the key to hiring the talent that will help you win the game.