Legal recruiters play an important role in helping law firms and in-house legal departments successfully hire legal talent and assist lawyers with finding new positions that advance their career goals. On the lawyer/talent side side, legal recruiters typically work with and help place attorneys with at least one year of experience post-law-school, up through lawyers with decades of legal experience. Most legal recruiters also place lawyers within literally every area of legal specialty, although some legal recruiters are highly specialized, working ONLY with intellectual property lawyers, for example, or only with lawyers who specialize in a certain type of regulatory work, or lawyers who only do corporate work. It is much more common for a legal recruiter to have a broader focus and experience placing lawyers in a wide variety of legal specialties.
On the employer/ firm side, legal headhunters work with law firms and in-house legal departments of every size and in every industry. On the law firm side, legal recruiters’ clients can be solo practitioners, boutique firms, local firms, regional firms, or the largest AmLaw 200 firms with a global presence. Many legal recruiters who work with law firms will specialize in either partner placements or associate placements, although some do both. Even if the legal recruiter in question does both, however, they tend to specialize in one or the other. On the in-house side, legal recruiters will work with small companies hiring their first lawyer to Fortune 500 companies with thousands of lawyers. Legal recruiters span the gamut, but typically specialize in either law firm or in-house placements.
Due to the different challenges inherent in placing attorneys with both law firms and in in-house legal departments, legal recruiters must combine knowledge of the legal market and personal connections with decision-makers in order to properly place legal talent. This requires a recruiter with a unique skill set that includes an understanding of the firm’s needs, a grasp of applicants’ abilities, and a talent for mediating between them.
Finding such recruiters isn’t always easy, but the questions below will help firms find the most viable recruiters for their specific situation.
Question #1: What is your area of legal recruiting specialty or experience?
Legal recruiters tend to specialize in either law firm placements or in-house placements. The candidate pool and hiring process is very different between law firms and in-house legal departments, so having experience with the type of employer doing the hiring is critical. Many legal recruiters who work with law firms will specialize in either partner placements or associate placements, although some do both. Even if the legal recruiter in question does both, however, they tend to specialize in one or the other. On the in-house side, legal recruiters will work with small companies hiring their first lawyer to Fortune 500 companies with thousands of lawyers.
Question #2: Do you have experience in recruiting for the specific positions we are looking to fill?
While no situation is entirely the same from firm to firm, recruiters should have a working understanding of 1) what is required in a specific position; and 2) what is required in a particular field of legal practice. The best and most common way for recruiters to demonstrate their competency is by demonstrating their prior experience.
When selecting a recruiter, prior experience with filling specific positions is important for two reasons. First, a recruiter needs a degree of basic legal literacy in order to properly evaluate candidates. Second, an experienced recruiter will have personal connections that can speed up the placement process.
Question #3: How do you source candidates, and what methods have you found to be most effective?
Recruiters that fail to have a defined sourcing strategy will experience significant delays in recruiting adequate candidates for open positions. Ideally, veteran recruiters should have established talent pipelines from previous legal contacts that help them quickly match attorneys looking to make a move with ongoing open positions. Additionally, recruiters should also implement common sourcing strategies such as the following:
- Having a robust internal database, often called an applicant tracking system or ATS, that is the repository of information, specialties, and interests of the lawyers and candidates they have come in contact with over a long period of time in the geographic areas they serve. Such a database allows the recruiter to search by interest, specialty, location preference, years of experience, keywords in the lawyers’ resume, etc. and quickly identify a call list for any position they are engaged to fill.
- Contacting potential hires through social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and more
- Communicating with the recruiter’s own professional network to garner referrals
Question #4: What is your process for screening and evaluating candidates?
According to some estimates, the legal hiring cycle (defined as the time between when a particular job requisition receives the green light and the desired candidate accepts the position) can take anywhere from two to six weeks. That is a significant period of time, and it may undersell the delays that occur in the industry. In a study examining the period from 2010 to 2015, CEB (which has since become a part of Gartner) found that white-collar jobs had a time-to-hire of 68 business days.
Part of the way in which this wait time can be shortened is by having recruiters provide adequate screening of candidates prior to application. In addition to ensuring that legal talent possesses the required skills, knowledge, and credentials, recruiters can verify applicant data and provide some screening for conflicts of interest.
Question #5: How do you stay up-to-date with industry trends and changes in recruitment practices?
Though the field of law may seem somewhat consistent to the average person, legal professionals understand that it can change just as quickly as more volatile industries such as technology and telecommunications. Recruiters must keep abreast of these shifts in order to satisfy both applicants and firms. Recruiters stay abreast of these changes by attending professional conferences and webinars specific to the legal recruiting industry and in general being involved with legal recruiter organizations, where members share trends, best practices, and agree to adhere to a mutually agreed upon, written, code of ethics. The National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) is one such organization. They are a professional organization dedicated to promoting high ethical and professional standards in the legal search and staffing industry and can help candidates stay current with industry trends by providing access to a variety of educational resources and networking opportunities.
Question #6: How do you handle confidential information, such as salary and benefits packages?
Just as legal talent desires confidentiality during a job search, firms also want to know that recruiters will treat their open positions and available benefits with discretion. Freely sharing such sensitive information in a job posting or similarly accessible media can put a firm at a competitive disadvantage. By asking this question, firms should hope to learn that specific recruiters prefer reaching out to prospects directly rather than through advertising. If they do turn to common marketing practices, they should provide assurances that confidential information will remain secure throughout the recruiting process.
It is important to note that as of 2023, several new states have enacted wage transparency laws, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island and Washington. These laws are designed to promote greater pay equity and transparency in the workplace. While recruiters have a responsibility to maintain a degree of confidentiality when handling sensitive information, in states that require job listings to disclose salary range, recruiters may need to balance the need for confidentiality with the legal requirement to disclose this information.
Question #7: Can you walk us through a recent successful placement you made, and how you approached that search?
Much like question #3, this query helps provide concrete evidence that a recruiter’s strategy has proven successful in the past. Your preferred recruiter ought to be able to supply examples of placements that worked well for both the firm and the applicant. In addition to providing information about previous accomplishments, this question allows recruiters to state if they have a placement-guarantee policy.
Question #8: How do you prioritize communication and feedback with both clients and candidates?
As mentioned in question #4, the hiring process can sometimes take a long time, and delays typically prove harmful for both firms and applying attorneys. Because so much of this process relies on communicating with a firm’s leadership, an experienced recruiter should emphasize the need for management to do the following:
- Promptly review resumes and interviews
- Communicate availability for interviews
- Discuss whether the quality of the applying candidates meets the firm’s goals
Question #9: How do you handle situations when a candidate you recommend ultimately doesn’t work out in the role?
No recruiter succeeds with every placement, and Attorney At Work notes that while the so-called hard costs of replacing an employee averages to $4,700, some believe “that the replacement cost of employee turnover for a professional is *closer to three to four times their annual salary.*” Employers should have a written guarantee in the placement agreement that provides that they will receive some sort of guarantee for failed placements. These might include a free-of-charge replacement in the event the new hire does not work out, or a prorated refund should a placement prove unsuccessful.
Question #10: What is your pricing structure, and what services does it include?
The quote of a placement fee requires information so that the legal recruiter can determine the time and resources that will need to be devoted to a search in order to be successful. Therefore, a reputable recruiter will not typically provide an employer with a fee quote before understanding the scope of job. Different positions, sectors, markets, and job requirements can substantially increase or decrease the cost of securing an appropriate candidate. However, once a firm has provided requirements to a recruiter, decision makers should expect to receive a written quote containing the terms of any fees, the services rendered, and any placement guarantees.
Momentum Search Partners has extensive experience in matching qualified Austin and Texas attorneys with many different types of firms. Contact us today to learn how we can help fill your Texas firm’s open positions.