Law Firm vs. In-House Recruiting: What’s the Difference?


Recruiting (and the difference between in-house and lateral law firm recruiting, in particular) can appear very opaque from the outside. I have this conversation repeatedly and thought it might be wise to clear a few things up.

In broad strokes, it’s helpful to understand that in-house recruiting is almost entirely retained—that is, clients hire our in-house team to fill a role. They find the right person for a job. Our team then creates a list of potential candidates, which the company reviews. The team reaches out to those in whom the company is interested at first blush. It’s a very closed process—and the ultimate goal is to fill this one role. It is search.

Lateral law firm recruiting, on the other hand, is seldom retained. At Major, Lindsey & Africa, we often do have exclusive searches, and we run those much like the in-house process. However, the vast majority of my work on the lateral law firm side is candidate-focused and based entirely on helping an individual associate find the ideal firm. I find the right job for a person, not to find a person for a specific job.

This isn’t to say that our in-house team doesn’t provide excellent service and guidance to their candidates. They absolutely do, and I genuinely believe they are the best in the business. But the bottom line is they are hiring for a role at a client company. They function much more like an internal recruiter for the organization.

So what does this mean for you as an associate? I remember when we first moved to London, and I hadn’t ever used a real estate agent to find a rental apartment before. (It’s just not really done in San Francisco). So here I was, fresh off the plane and looking for a home for me and my husband. I met a real estate agent I really liked, and for whatever reason (jetlag?), it didn’t occur to me that she simply could only show me the stock that she had—that to find the best spot for us, I would need to tour the city with a variety of companies. Each of them had different apartments exclusively. I couldn’t just work with the one person I liked. In-house is like that. You may work with a variety of recruiters because they only have the access to the roles they’re currently working on. Law firm recruiting is the opposite. I have all of the roles on the market, and as I’ve previously written, working with multiple law firm recruiters can lead to very messy situations and doesn’t inure to your benefit.

I hope this helps to lift the veil on the process and make it slightly less mysterious! 



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