Legal recruiters serve two primary functions and have two masters, depending on the context.
Function 1: Help attorneys identify and obtain the most suitable career opportunities.
Why partners use recruiters:
- Provide inside knowledge (good and bad) on the market. Recruiters spend each day working with firms, and have a lot of insight and perspective that is not commonly known.
- Help you develop your “lateral brand,” and strategies to put your best foot forward in ways that will resonate with law firms (beyond what’s on your website biography).
- Assist in all aspects of the deal. Making a lateral move is akin to a marathon and having an advisor, confidant, consigliore, sounding board, and advocate to assist you at each stage can make the process much easier. (See The Weak vs. The Best Legal Recruiters: Key Differences in Approach.)
- Help maintain confidentiality by serving as an intermediary.
- Delegate the time and legwork associated with scheduling multiple interviews, completing due diligence materials managing multiple firm opportunities, etc.
- Take advantage of recruiter’s “relationship factor” and personal endorsement which can inure to your benefit.
- Gain an advocate to help navigate the moving pieces of the process (understanding the norms, interview preparation, feedback, and negotiating offers).
Function 2: Help law firms find the most suitable partners for their unique opportunity(ies).
Why law firms use recruiters:
- Gain access to high-quality partners who are not otherwise on the market.
- Save time by avoiding the legwork of researching, contacting, and engaging with potential candidates.
- Source, vet, and present the most qualified candidates (if working on a particular search) that will fit best with the opportunity and firm’s culture.
- Recruiters are able to interview for cultural fit and shared objectives, and impart this information to qualified candidates.
- Gain knowledge about the market and the firm’s place in it (in a way that is not otherwise readily available).
The law firm. There is no cost to the attorney who is being placed. The recruiter is only compensated if and when you are placed and remain employed for a certain amount of time. The employer pays the placement fee, which is negotiated in advance of your referral and usually consists of a percentage of your first-year’s compensation.
Some partners wonder if the placement fee is a disadvantage to their candidacy. If you have a portable practice, or the firm is losing business by not having somebody with your experience, the placement fee more than pays for itself. This is why so many law firms engage recruiters for partners.
But if you do not have portable business (or are not coming from a very in-demand area in the government or a titled leadership position), using a recruiter for a lateral partner move may not justify the placement fee. It’s truly a case-by-case analysis and the best recruiters will level with you on the pros vs. cons.