The ecosystem of law firms is an intensely competitive, often secretive one. Given the value placed on individual books of business and practice area expertise, demand for top talent can be fierce among firms looking to rev up their work.
Legal recruiters play an instrumental role in the industry, acting as matchmakers that discern the best fit between a firm's needs and culture and an attorney's skills and career goals, and orchestrating lateral moves that can shape a firm's business. Many recruiters were themselves practicing attorneys, bringing firsthand knowledge to their work.
The pandemic, in spite of its initial challenges, brought with it a unique opportunity for firms seeking to boost their ranks. Although hiring in the last three months of 2020 was 28% lower than in the same period in 2019, total law firm hires saw an uptick of 44% from the third quarter to the fourth quarter last year, according to data from Firm Prospects — signaling a positive outlook from firms.
The fourth quarter, in fact, was "fantastic," according to Major, Lindsey & Africa's president, John Cashman, exemplifying the optimistic outlook that most recruiters across the legal industry have about the year ahead.
"The market is roiling," said Alisa Levin of legal search group Greene Levin Snyder.
Insider tapped its sources at law firms and legal search groups to identify 15 of the top recruiting firms that facilitate big industry moves. All of these firms specialize in partner and associate recruiting at the top Am Law firms, though some also do in-house placements and interim hiring.
With 29 locations around the world and around 200 recruiters, Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) is one of the largest legal search companies in the industry. In 2020, it made around 300 permanent placements at law firms and approximately 340 in-house placements at companies like Facebook, Amazon, and McKinsey & Company, according to John Cashman, MLA's president.
"We are a truly global search firm, given our size and perspective," said Cashman. "We start cultivating relationships in law schools, and work with those law students throughout their careers. 'MLA for life' is a slogan that we use, and it's true."