During the three and a half decades since the 1982 founding of our firm — Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) — the legal recruiting and staffing industry has undergone enormous changes; indeed, in many respects, it has changed more than the legal industry it serves.
The Role of Legal Recruiting and Staffing Firms
Legal recruiting and staffing firms make professional placements for a variety of positions and professional roles at client companies and law firms, either for permanent placement or for more limited durations of time. They include:
Most of the scores of legal recruiting firms in the U.S. have a small handful of recruiters in a single city; several have offices in more than one city. Our firm is unique in having more than 200 recruiting professionals in more than 25 locations worldwide, including London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Amsterdam, Sydney, Delhi, and cities across the U.S. This provides the distinct advantage of having market information about law firms, corporate clients, and practice trends globally rather than just for a single city.
Why Use a Recruiter?
There are five main reasons that law firms and companies utilize legal recruiters:
Law firm partners and associates utilize a recruiter to assist in assessing the market of firms that might be a good fit; to provide information about the firms’ cultures, finances, practices, and other pluses and minuses; to serve as an intermediary throughout what can sometimes seem like an interminable recruiting process; and (in appropriate instances) to help in negotiating aspects of the lateral’s compensation package.
For partners, this process often includes the recruiter’s assistance in fashioning a business plan to help firms evaluate how a lateral can be accretive and help advance the firm’s long-term strategic goals. An experienced recruiter familiar with client firms can also provide critical information about issues such as capital contributions, pension arrangements, partner compensation systems, lease obligations, potential client conflicts, and the like.
As noted in MLA’s most recent Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey, partners who used the services of a recruiter when changing firms had significantly higher rates of satisfaction with their move than those who did not, especially when the search consultant had:
Partners who worked with recruiters were also more likely to review a firm’s financials before moving than those who moved without assistance. For both groups, however, the percentage doing thorough due diligence before investing their professional future and their capital in a new partnership was shockingly low.
Keeping the Keepers III: Mobility & Management of Associate Talent, a national study and report of law firm associate hiring and retention from 2006–2011, includes findings from more than 22,000 associate hires and more than 17,000 associate departures. The report found that very few firms anticipated changes in non-partner recruiting budgets or the number of administrative staff who are dedicated to non-partner recruiting in the near term. At the same time, however, a significant number of participating law firms (56 percent) reported an expected increase in lateral hiring. The report’s supplemental study of 85 law firm administrators found that search firms, internal referrals, and online searches or solicitations initiated by the firm accounted for the largest percentage of lateral hires within the last two years. The majority of firms reported that law school job postings, external referrals, and unsolicited write-ins each accounted for 10 percent or less of lateral hires.
Law firms recognize that while recruiting fees are not immaterial, search consultants can add enormous value in helping them add senior laterals who can in turn add significant revenues, expand the firm’s talent and client bases, and bring new energy and vitality. For that reason, lateral partner hiring is more competitive than ever — e.g., in a recent survey, 96 percent of law firm managing partners said they viewed lateral partner recruiting as a primary growth strategy. To be successful in implementing that strategy, firms need to be nimble, creative, flexible, decisive, and visionary (read more specific suggestions for law firms in “To Compete for Laterals — Linger Not, Partners”). In short, law firms and their management teams have concluded that employing the services of savvy recruiting professionals is a productive allocation of firm resources.