Takes One to Know One: Why Recruiting Lawyers is Different

I left legal practice almost three years ago and am routinely asked by friends, classmates, family, and more whether I “miss the law.” The truth is that in many ways it doesn’t feel like I really left. I find that I use my training and experiences as a lawyer every day in my role as a legal recruiter and would guess most of my colleagues at Major, Lindsey & Africa feel similarly (the vast majority of us fall into the “recovering attorney” camp).

The law can be a quirky, idiosyncratic field. There’s a bunch of Latin terminology, designations like “Order of the Coif,” state and specialty licensure (e.g., the Patent Bar), and so many other nuances. Even reading a lawyer’s resume can seem sometimes like it requires an interpreter! How important is a district court clerkship or circuit court clerkship? Membership on Law Review? Time from associate to partner or counsel? I find that my background allows me to play translator, and helps our clients – especially non-lawyers (more on that below) – to evaluate and identify the best candidates.

Maybe more importantly, I find that both clients and candidates view my time “in the seat” - both as an associate navigating the waters of a large law firm and as in-house counsel at a fast-growing, global company - to be one of the most valuable assets that I (and MLA) can bring to a search. For the corporate and organizational clients that I represent on in-house counsel searches, I notice that my experience having worked within a business — helping a growing, revenue generating enterprise navigate uncertainty — has given me valuable insight and understanding.  When clients say they want a lawyer who is business savvy and has commercial acumen, for instance, or who can be a strategic partner and think creatively, I know first-hand what they mean; I’ve seen those characteristics from former teammates, supervisors, and colleagues in action, and have built teams based on those same mandates from a GC or CEO.

Frequently with in-house counsel searches, I’m working closely with non-lawyers, oftentimes a CEO, CFO, HR leadership, or a company’s internal talent acquisition team. While they may not have a legal background, they do have immense institutional knowledge and understanding of company/team dynamics. The best relationships are really symbiotic—I can help evaluate and assess the strength of a legal candidate, while my HR partner, for example, can help assess for cultural fit and navigate internal dynamics. This can be especially valuable when advising a company that does not yet have a legal function and is considering implementing one, or is considering growing its current legal department and is really looking for advice and counsel. While my role on paper is to help our clients source great candidates, I find that much of my time is spent helping them think through their needs – and I’m able to put myself in their shoes, which naturally leads to a better outcome.

From a candidate’s perspective, having spent time “in the trenches” helps garner trust and credibility. In many ways it can save time in the getting to know you phase, because candidates have comfort that I get it, and helps avoid them having to provide a lot of explanation and background. In addition, working effectively with candidates oftentimes involves a good amount of vulnerability and counsel-seeking on the candidate’s part. Candidates have remarked to me that they feel especially comfortable doing so knowing that I had similar training or have “been there.”

So while I no longer interpret regulations, litigate disputes, or negotiate legal documents, I try to bring my experience as a lawyer to bear every day to be the most effective partner to my clients and counselor to candidates.

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