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Chicago — As the law-firm battle to attract new attorneys heats up, so does partner interest in hiring experienced, senior executives who can give firms an edge in recruiting and retaining lawyers. Firms are creating new top posts and filling them with people who may or may not have a legal background, bringing on for the first time “chiefs” charged with overseeing attorney hiring and employment matters. Some firms are snatching seasoned recruitment officers from rivals. Pay offers for the new executives range from $275,000 to $450,000 annually in New York, surpassing past compensation levels for any legal human resource managers, recruiters said. Sullivan & Cromwell last month lured Patricia Morrissy away from New York’s Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, giving her the newly created title of chief legal recruiting officer and boosting her from the director-level title she held at her former firm. This is the first time Sullivan & Cromwell hired someone with Morrissy’s “seniority, experience and reputation,” said H. Rodgin Cohen, chairman of the New York-based firm. “Every element in the recruiting process has to be improved to stay even, and improved more to get ahead,” Cohen said. Valuing outsiders Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis, Baker & McKenzie, New York’s White & Case and Boston’s Ropes & Gray all filled new, top recruiting or human resource positions within the last 18 months. Shearman & Sterling and Willkie Farr & Gallagher, both based in New York, are hunting for such executives, recruiters said. Those two firms declined to comment. “Hiring lawyers is so much more competitive than it used to be that firms can just not afford to be complacent,” said Barbara Dolgin, a legal headhunter in New York at the search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. Firms are beginning to understand that as they expand and extend geographically, the employee issues are becoming more complex and requiring more sophisticated solutions, said Gary Beu, who became chief human resources officer at Kirkland in July 2005 after a 32-year career at accountancy firm Arthur Andersen. “There is a recognition that there is experience to be leveraged from outside the industry,” Beu said. While law firms have employed human resource managers to oversee nonattorney staff, and directors to organize recruiting events since at least the 1980s, those positions have tended to be administrative roles directed by the firm’s hiring partners and employment committee. Until recently, there were only a handful of firms that had a senior level professional overseeing attorney employment issues, Dolgin said. Now, more firms are bringing on the senior executives because of the especially fierce competition for attorneys in major U.S. cities such as Chicago, New York and Washington, and declining law school classes, recruiters and partners said. “You need somebody to think of different ways to do recruiting than you’ve done in the past,” Dolgin said. The new executives said they’re being asked to give well-researched advice to managing partners and, in some cases, to try methods that have been successful in other industries. They report to the firm’s managing partners and are supplementing the work of hiring partners and firm employment committees. While the titles and duties vary somewhat from firm to firm, the idea is the same: to place a new priority on attorney recruitment and retention. “This is much more of a strategic-type role,” Morrissy said. “It’s not just making sure the trains run on time.” Under Beu’s guidance, Kirkland has held 30 focus groups with the firm’ associates across the U.S. in an attempt to better understand how those lawyers see their relationship with Kirkland and what they consider the firm’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s an attempt to find out how to retain the associates and create and environment where they’re willing to give the firm the best that they’ve got, Beu said. Timm Whitney, a former McKinsey & Co. executive who joined White & Case as director of attorney recruiting and professional development last year, is helping the firm consider options outside of U.S. law schools to get around the shortage of qualified candidates. He plans to recruit as many as 30 students from Australia this year and may seek students from India as well, he said. Focusing on retention Joy Curtis, who became the first “chief people officer” at Ropes & Gray last August, is putting just as much emphasis on retention as recruitment in an attempt to make an attorney’s whole experience at the firm a positive one, from pro bono opportunities to retirement benefits. “If we recruited the best, but dropped them at the door, you’re not going to hold onto those people,” she said. Greg Walters, who left his job as chief learning officer of Motorola Corp. to become Baker & McKenzie’s global director of talent management in October 2005, is bolstering the firm’s mentoring and coaching as part of the firm’s effort to retain attorneys, he said. “It’s very much a people business and maybe this is something that’s been long overdue in law firms,” said Walters. The new executives also say they’re helping firms monitor the results more systematically. For instance, White & Case is tracking its recruitment spending at each school and using specific measures, as well as the performance of associates, Whitney said. In addition to fresh ideas, the new executives are there to shepherd the new programs and give attorneys more time to focus on legal work. Whitney said he suggested that one of the firm’s attorneys work with him, but White & Case managing partner Duane Wall insisted that Whitney be the expert, leaving partners to focus on legal work, Whitney said. Whitney estimates that he has cut the time that employment committee members devote to hiring matters by 25% and cut it in half for the hiring partners. Hiring the executives is a trend that may or may not catch on with smaller firms because it’s a significant expense, said Eva Wisnik, a New York recruiter who runs her own firm, Wisnik Career Enterprises. Even with firms of 500 or more lawyers, it’s going to depend on the perspective of management, she said. Greenberg Traurig, which was ahead of the curve in hiring its first chief recruitment officer in May 2004, definitely believes that the investment is paying off in terms of implementing programs to hold onto attorneys. “If you don’t get a professional person that can execute on that, it just won’t happen,” said Cesar Alvarez, president of Greenberg Traurig. “If you leave it to the lawyers, it’s too much effort for them.” But hiring outside executives does not always work out. Marian Jacobson, a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal who sits on that firm’s committee overseeing associates, said that her firm had a bad experience hiring a mid-level manager about 15 years ago from another industry to work on attorney matters. The firm hasn’t considered the idea since then. “People didn’t respect the position as they would a lawyer and someone who has earned their stripes,” she said.

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