5 Tips for Maximizing Your Retained Search Investment


Is partnering with a retained legal search firm still a good idea for finding in-house talent? Despite the rise of recruiting automation, the wobbly stock market, inflation, and some lay offs, the answer continues to be a resounding yes. Experienced legal consultants offer expertise rarely found within a company’s HR department—or even at traditional recruiting firms. They not only understand all the different legal functions within corporate legal departments, but they also understand and know the legal marketplace. And because they focus on legal searches only, they have a large network of legal talent at all levels.

An experienced recruiting partner can make a legal search more manageable by actively sourcing, vetting, and communicating with candidates. Not only does this save you time, but such a partner can cultivate a favorable first impression with job seekers by promoting a streamlined, well-managed, positive search experience. In any market, that’s a significant benefit to you and your company brand. Although your search partner will handle most of the legwork, here are four ways to foster their success and get the best return on your recruiting dollars.

1. Be as specific and detailed as possible about what you’re looking for.  Taking the time to explain your vision, with some specificity, will pay off in spades down the road. The more you share about your ideal candidate, the better chance your search partner will have of finding that person. Be crystal-clear about what really matters to you, in terms of both substantive and soft skills. And if you are not sure how to prioritize these items, by sharing details about your existing legal team, its strengths as well as gaps, your search partner can help you assess and refine your needs, thereby making the search more efficient and successful. It’s important for the recruiter to understand specifically what this role will be doing and what your expectations are. The search partner will then help you translate that information into mission-critical requirements and “bonus” attributes. S/he can also help you use that insight to create a compelling job description that attracts your ideal type of candidates.

2. Be candid about your organization and legal department.  Although your search partner may be highly experienced working with companies, no two organizations are alike. The structure of the legal department, titles, and other nuts and bolts will differ across the board. That’s why it’s imperative to be fully transparent about how your company works. This includes sharing  information about:

  • Why you’re looking to hire: Why is the position vacant? Is it a new hire or a backfill? If there’s a “story” that’s relevant to a new hire, explain as best you can. Your search partner will gather the information and present it effectively to candidates.·
  • Your company culture: It’s ok—preferable, in fact—to be bluntly honest about this. Which types of lawyers tend to flourish in your department? Which types don’t do so well? This will help ensure you’re getting candidates who are a suitable match for your unique organization.
  • Your stakeholders: Who at the company will interact closely with this new hire? A good recruiter may wish to meet them or at least get a description of their personalities, working styles, and expectations. Those are key insights your search partner will bear in mind during candidate sourcing and screening.
  • Compensation: Clarify compensation details up front. In many states (including California where I practice), compensation ranges must be disclosed relatively early in the process. Be sure you know what your “line in the sand” is. This will help your search partner set candidates’ expectations, eliminate wasted time, and avoid awkward roadblocks and bad feelings down the line.

Whether good, bad, or ugly, spilling the details about your company and team will help your search partner pitch your job effectively to candidates. This means divulging any negative information, too. Since most lawyers will thoroughly research your organization before an interview, it’s best to be prepared. An experienced search partner can work with you to strategize around communicating troublesome information in a way that is authentic but tempers a negative reaction.

3. Be ready to spring into action. Prime candidates aren’t sitting back waiting for the phone to ring. They have options. Other companies may be wooing them. This means that once the ball is in your court (i.e., you’ve been presented with a slate of qualified candidates), it’s time to act. Make interviewing a priority within your company and clear the schedules of those you will need to participate. Deciding in advance how the internal interview process will work can help with scheduling efficiency. Who should be interviewing candidates, and in what order? Your experienced search partner can help with this. Be realistic and practical about numbers of interviews as well. Too many rounds can wear out candidates and cause them to second guess the process. Determine exactly who will be making the final decision on candidates, and if external approvals are needed (e.g., Board of Directors), allow time for that approval. If your internal process gets drawn out, candidate enthusiasm will wane. Candidates may be turned off by your lack of urgency and/or receive other offers. Dragging your feet can cause you to miss out on valuable talent, so do what you can to avoid delays in the process.

4. Tell it like it is. Once you begin receiving resumes and information about the candidates from your search partner, be sure to share what you like and dislike about what you see. A good search partner will welcome thoughtful feedback because such information will enable her/him to effectively tweak the search process if necessary to bring in individuals who better fit your goals. Moreover, a candid discussion will provide an opportunity for your search partner to share with you information about the market response and candidate feedback, enabling you to better understand how the legal market views your company and the opportunity. Again, providing as much information up front and throughout the process can help ensure you receive candidate slates that are on track with what you’re seeking.

Your recruiting partner is here to serve you—and if they’re not meeting your needs, s/he wants to know. Be honest if you feel there’s room for improvement. And it can’t hurt to ask your search partner if there’s anything you can do to help make the recruiting process more fruitful. A search partner’s job is not only to present candidates to you; but also to close the deal. That’s why you should stay in touch with all through the job search process, including right before and after an offer is extended. While you may already be speaking directly to the candidate at this point, keep your search partner in the loop until a decision is made. S/he can assist with managing candidate expectations around compensation and benefits, any negotiations of offer terms, reference checks and other formalities that must take place before a search is wrapped up. Final negotiations can be tricky, and having an experienced partner involved to assist with communications can keep you above the fray of the nitty gritty, thus preserving your new employee relationship!

5. It is a partnership in the truest sense of the word. Executing a successful in-house search is a complex feat that requires significant time, expertise, and resources. Partnering with an experienced recruiter in this space can help take the burden off your shoulders and expose you to a broader pool of talent. However, it’s a collaborative endeavor and even the finest search partner can’t guarantee success working in a vacuum. The more engaged you are at every stage of the search, the more likely you’ll land the high-caliber legal talent and happy cultural “chemistry” that you’re looking for.


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