As a 15-year veteran of recruiting legal talent for both corporate and law firm clients — and as a former in-house counsel, General Counsel and AmLaw 100 lawyer — I have seen all kinds of recruiting and hiring practices. When a client engages an outside recruiting firm, the best likelihood of a successful placement will arise from a close partnership between the client and the recruiter. That partnership begins with both parties’ preparation for that first meeting.
We all work in competitive markets, and you rely on your recruiter to bring your story to the market and the story of the market to you. Here are four things you can do to help best leverage your outside recruiter relationship.
Know your story
Your recruiter is best able to communicate your firm’s story to the market when you have first clearly articulated that story to yourself. My peers and I have done our most successful recruiting when our clients have shared both their external marketing materials and their internal strategy documents that give an honest overview of their business, strategy, opportunities and challenges. We can then tell a compelling story on their behalf and overcome any negative perceptions in the market.
Be transparent with your recruiter about your firm’s reputation in the market, the wins and losses you’ve faced in the current year, as well as your internal and external challenges. You must assume that any setbacks and challenges you have faced – whether competitive or internal (such as low morale and conflict) – will have filtered their way into the market. Discuss with your recruiter how to address these.
Think about your strategy going forward and the rationale for that strategy. How does your strategy fit with your current strengths, market opportunities and challenges? How did your performance measure up against this year’s strategy? You should also make sure to share with your recruiter your company’s financial performance in recent years, including current year-to-date.
Understand your hiring needs
This may seem obvious, but it’s important to take a step back to truly understand your hiring needs and the type of talent you seek before meeting with a recruiter. The level of preparation I have seen from clients on this core aspect of the search has run the spectrum from a simple “wish list” to detailed presentations on the what and the why of a hire. You know which approach works and gains credibility in the market. Share your story for why you want this talent and why this talent would want to cast their lot with you.
As an example, if you’re an AmLaw 100 law firm, you should come to the meeting prepared with information about the specific practice area you’d like to fill with a new candidate. If you’re filling a position to help grow a practice area, think through why you’re targeting it as an area of strength and how you can support that growth, such as with existing strong complementary practices. What current clients are served by that practice now? What clients are served in other practice areas that are natural prospects for this new practice capability you seek? Which clients have you recently lost? Which clients would present conflicts? If you’re filling a position after a departure, consider why the talent left. If they went to a competitor, be honest with yourself and your recruiter as to whether and how much of a loss that represented.
When hiring laterally, it’s helpful to set parameters for what an ideal candidate would bring to your firm. For example, what is the threshold book of business you would consider for candidates at different stages of their career? What cultural makeup succeeds in your system? What was your recent prior experience seeking to hire this talent, and what worked and did not work when pursuing this type of hire in the past?
Set compensation benchmarks
At the very core of every move is a conversation about compensation. Understanding how you compensate talent is vital when meeting with a recruiter. When setting compensation benchmarks, consider how much you can compensate overall, what your ranges are for any given level of revenue generation, and any other relevant metrics of contribution. Understand how these metrics compare to your peer groups. While you should come to the conversation with a general sense of how you match up against peer organizations, your recruiter can also help you benchmark appropriately. Keep in mind that how you compensate and measure performance dictates culture and behavior.
Recognize that the recruiting process requires a commitment
Once you have tasked your recruiter to go to market on your behalf, it’s important for you to be prompt and responsive in offering feedback on the candidates they have submitted. Treat the submission process as an opportunity for both parties to offer real-time feedback on your expectations and the current talent market. If you have interest in a candidate after that first interview, designate one person with the requisite authority to be the “owner” of that candidate and the internal champion of the candidacy. You will want someone who can assure the interviewing process and any “sell” goes smoothly.
There is keen competition for the best talent, and candidates will want to feel the love and have a clear picture of why your firm is better than your competitors and their current home. Your recruiter has the pulse of the candidate and can help you keep a sense of how best to maintain interest and the momentum of these meetings.
The best recruiters are trusted advisors and your eyes and ears in the market. Partner well with them and they can add significant value. Your trusted recruiter will confidently and successfully execute on your recruiting needs. They will tell your firm’s story, help identify opportunities, and put challenges and setbacks in their proper context. Prepare well and you will gain maximum leverage from this trusted relationship.