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Firms vie for them. Attorneys rely on them. Headhunters bank on them. They’re the individuals in charge of attorney recruiting at major law firms. And as firms have hired more and more attorneys, they’ve become a hot commodity. So much so that, like the laterals they recruit, they’ve been hopping from one firm to another at an unprecedented rate. “I’ve never seen this level of mobility in my eight years as a recruiter,” said W. Jon Escher, of Palo Alto, Calif.’s Solutus Legal Search. He rattled off the names of eight recruiting administrators who’ve recently jumped from one big firm to another. Firms hit with defections include some of Silicon Valley’s marquee players: Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison; Cooley Godward; and Fenwick & West. Recruiting administrators have greater opportunities to move up the law firm ladder and boost their salaries by jumping to another firm. The increased competition also highlights the growing prominence of the legal recruiting profession. In fact, it is so highly regarded that many attorneys have chosen recruiting as an alternative to practicing law. “With attrition and in-house opportunities, all firms in Silicon Valley have felt more dependent on recruiting staff,” said Shannon Mello, recruiting coordinator at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen. “That’s helped the profession.” RECRUITERS GAIN PRESTIGE The recruiting field has evolved dramatically in the last two decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was common for the secretary of a hiring partner to move into the position of a recruiting administrator. At that time, a recruiter processed r�sum�s and set up interviews, said Tina Shinnick, Brobeck’s firmwide recruiting manager. Now they “help the firm establish itself,” strategizing and playing an active role in policy matters. In the early 1990s, the profession got a boost as firms increased their lateral hiring. Since then, the number of legal recruiting positions has continued to grow, particularly in the last two years. In response, firms have established an infrastructure to manage the recruiting process. At the top of the pyramid are those who oversee the firm’s entire recruiting operation. Below them are managers who run programs in local offices and handle budget and policy matters; coordinators who deal directly with candidates and handle campus activities and the firm’s summer program; and recruiting assistants. At Cooley, for example, the firm has increased the number of recruiting administrators from five or six in 1998 to 15 today, said Marisa Murphy Woods, the firm’s former recruiting manager. Woods recently left Cooley to head up recruiting for Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker’s 65-attorney San Francisco outpost. The move offered an “opportunity to get on the ground floor of a relatively new office and help it grow,” Woods said, adding that the firm hopes to double its head count in the San Francisco Bay Area in the next year. Others that have recently jumped to new posts include McCutchen’s Mello, who was previously a recruiting coordinator at Brobeck. Law school recruiting coordinator Melissa Reis also made a lateral move from Brobeck’s Palo Alto office to Wilson Sonsini in July. She said she has more responsibility as a member of Wilson’s nine-person recruiting staff. Brobeck in turn picked up former Wilson recruiter Marilee Stone. She recently became recruiting manager for Brobeck’s Palo Alto office after a four-month stint with Thelen Reid & Priest. The greater competition for recruiting talent also has bumped up salaries. Five years ago, recruiting coordinators earned about $45,000 to $55,000, Shinnick said. Now they make “upward of $70,000 with one year of experience.” CAREER OPTION FOR ATTORNEYS The boost in pay and prestige has sparked greater interest in recruiting careers. “More and more people are looking at this as a viable career, from college students interested in human resources to attorneys wishing to make a career transition,” Woods said. Woods herself made the jump from attorney to recruiter. After graduating from law school in 1993, she spent two years doing legal aid work in California’s Central Valley and one year in private practice before taking a recruiting position. She is among more than half a dozen recruiters in the Bay Area with a law degree. Being a recruiter is “a way to work in a law firm without practicing law and use everything you know,” Woods said. The profession has its own rewards and stresses, recruiters say. Shinnick, a 15-year veteran, advises recruiters not to keep a job for more than five years unless they move into a new position with different responsibilities. “It takes so much creative energy that you burn out,” she said. At that point “you don’t want to talk with another student or any more high-maintenance laterals.” As the demand for attorneys has skyrocketed, so too have the pressures on recruiters. They say the past year was the most competitive they’ve ever experienced. As a result, they have had to come up with new recruiting strategies. Susie Elitzky, Morrison & Foerster’s attorney recruiting manager, said such innovations have included boosting headhunter fees beyond the normal level of 25 percent of an attorney’s first-year salary and offering more signing bonuses. “One firm was sending bottles of champagne to people with offers,” Elitzky said. Looking to the future, recruiters are optimistic that a downturn in the legal market will not lead to cutbacks among recruiting staff. Shinnick said the recession in the early 1990s did not lead to layoffs. “Recruiters got more involved in HR and marketing,” she said. Woods agreed. “So many of us wear so many different hats within the firm,” overseeing training, retention and educational programs, she said. “Even if the recruiting slows down, it will give us time to focus on our other job responsibilities.”
Law Practice Management: Managing People First. December 4-8.

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