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With associates changing firms like it’s going out of style, the highly volatile legal job market can be rough going without proper guidance. A legal recruiting agency can be just the guide an attorney needs. A virtual non-entity 10 years ago, these “headhunters” are enjoying a substantial boom in business thanks to the increase in the number of lateral hires. The end result — more and more recruiting agencies are sprouting up. To help associates wishing to make a lateral move, Wayne, Pa.-based legal consultant Robert Denney offers a five-step guideline to approaching a headhunter: � First and foremost, decide with certainty that you want to remain in private practice as opposed to leaving to pursue other legal fields. � Decide in which area(s) you want to continue and/or add to your practice. � Begin to research other firms that do not offer those practice area(s) and are good matches in terms of factors such as salary, expected hours and office environment. � Once you find a few promising firms, put the word out that you are shopping around for a new firm to friends and contacts who could be of assistance. � Bring your data to a reputable headhunter or legal recruiter. The two oldest recruiting agencies in the Philadelphia area are Coleman Legal Staffing and Abelson Legal Search. Coleman was the first one on the scene in 1985; Abelson celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The legal recruiting route, Abelson’s Sandy Mannix said, is the way to go if an associate wants to explore his or her options quietly — without the knowledge of his or her current firm — because legal recruiters generally have a long client list of large law firms and can place an associate without making direct inquiries on behalf of the lawyer. “Part of the reason that [associates] have to be hesitant to respond to [classified] ads, especially a box number, is that you could be sending something to your own firm,” Mannix said. Respondents to ads in many papers can put a note on the outside of their response and it won’t be sent to a respondent’s own firm. Mannix said recruiters are looking for the best match and won’t fill a client’s opening with an associate who wouldn’t be happy at the firm. Almost all lawyer recruiting firms are paid by law firms. This fee is usually a percentage (generally between 20 to 30 percent) of the hired associate’s total first-year compensation. Despite the fact that associates aren’t paying the bills, it is in the recruiter’s best interest to keep the candidates happy. “No, [associates] are not our clients, and no, we are not an employment agency, but associates are a big part of what we do,” Mannix said. “We like to better learn their goals and interests to provide them with a menu of opportunities that best suits their needs,” said Michael Coleman, founder of Coleman Legal Search. “As we work through the process, the interests of the candidate are always central to us.” Coleman and Abelson both provide candidates with interview preparation and feedback. In the unique position of speaking to both the candidate and the client, the recruiter is often able to provide the most informed advice about a particular firm. “The best interests of the candidates supersede our own,” Coleman said. “We will show them all their options and then suggest the one we feel is best for them — even if it means staying put.” ATTORNEY FEEDBACK What do folks on both sides of the lateral hiring game think of the legal recruiters? Jodi T. Plavner, hiring partner for Philadelphia-based Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen, said that her firm has worked with various legal recruiting agencies that have aided with lateral hires. “It’s always nice to bypass the recruiter’s fee by hiring candidates brought to our attention by associates, partners or even blind resumes,” Plavner said. “However, when a recruiter provides us with the perfect match, it’s an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up.” Plavner said that in order to have a positive experience with legal recruiters, it is necessary to keep them as informed as possible. “Although [legal recruiters] obviously want to make a placement, the ones we worked with never pushed a candidate on us or manipulated us to hire someone unqualified,” Plavner said. “The trick is to be as specific as possible and let them know exactly what kind of attorney you’re looking to hire.” According to Plavner, recruiters know that if they won’t take the time to seek a candidate with the qualifications the firm needs, they won’t get that firm’s business again. Not all attorneys come away from their experience with a recruiter satisfied. One associate, a lawyer at a large Philadelphia firm and a three-time veteran of the legal recruiting process, was less than thrilled her first time out. “I think [the legal recruiter] was more concerned with the clients rather than the people [they] were placing,” the attorney said. “[They] were not necessarily working in my interests. I was way too naive.” The attorney also complained that the recruiter, at times, seemed to ignore her wishes altogether. “A lot of times they would say, ‘We have a job, it’s in Wilmington.’ And I had to keep telling them that I wasn’t interested in going to Delaware,” she said. “They couldn’t answer some basic questions about the firm they were trying to place me in.” The attorney has used recruiting agencies twice since that first negative experience, but she has never used the same recruiter more than once. Her best, most recent experience was with a representative from a national recruiting firm based in Detroit, who “cold-called” her. “He flat-out knew the firm that he was trying to sell,” the attorney said. “I had direct questions, and he had specific answers. He just knew salaries and the firm inside and out.” So, after seeing both the up and down sides of legal recruiting, what advice can this attorney give? “[Recruiters] aren’t like a career counselor,” she said. “That’s not how you should approach using a headhunter. It’s not someone to call when you’re having a crisis in your firm.” Reactions vary, though. The same recruiting agency that drew such ire from the previous attorney draws praise from attorney Steven Bowers, who recently used its services to move to Philadelphia-based Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley from a Boston firm. “They asked for my resume, had me fine-tune it a little bit,” Bowers said. “They asked me what type of job I wanted, went into some listing they had and found jobs that matched that. Then one week later, I had one interview, and I got the job. It was really a very quick process.” Though he had never used — or looked into — the legal recruitment process before, Bowers said that he “absolutely” would recommend the process to associates looking for a change. CONTRACT WORK In response to the glut of permanent placement agencies, Coleman added the services of Robert and Elizabeth Nourian’s Counsel Per Diem in 1998 to better serve attorneys seeking non-permanent work and those firms needing extra staff to do large-scale document reviews or to fill hourly or seasonal positions in law firms. “As more and more clients sought options other than permanent hires, we found that the addition of a per diem service would be a wise venture,” Coleman said. “With an increase in the number of attorneys looking for contract work, the temporary service enabled us to better serve clients as well as candidates.” The Nourians found themselves on the other side of the same dilemma. “Although we were placing many contract attorneys, we were unable to assist those seeking permanent work,” Robert Nourian said. “Since joining forces with Michael Coleman, we have not only gained access to the Coleman name and reputation but also the ability to now help both candidates and clients in more ways by providing more full-service staffing solutions.” Coleman and Abelson aren’t the only agencies on the block. Like Coleman, Oxford Legal Associates offers both contract and temporary placements. In 1995 it became the first Philadelphia-based company to place solely contract attorneys and then expanded their business to include permanent placement, paralegals and legal secretaries in 1998. Philadelphia-based Juristaff Inc., the exclusive legal staffing agency of the Philadelphia Bar Association, provides services similar to Oxford’s. According to its co-president, James La Rosa, there is a growing niche of temporary and contract attorneys in Philadelphia and other major cities in the country. “Law firms find it more financially feasible to staff large projects without having to hire full-time associates, especially in light of the current salary wars,” La Rosa said. “More and more firms are following the lead of corporate legal departments, who have been using headhunters for quite some time as a result of their need to remain more bottom-line and budget conscious.” While temp work may seem like a step down, it is sometimes the only way to catch the attention of a desired firm. “If you’re looking for a permanent job, temp work is a good way to get your foot in the door, especially with a firm who might not have initially hired you,” La Rosa said. “Once you’re there and prove yourself, anything is possible.” According to Oxford president Ronalyn Calistri, those who choose temp work over permanent placement are generally professionals who desire a more flexible schedule to fit with the needs of their lifestyle. “Although contract work is often uncertain, it gives people the freedom to control their own schedules,” Calistri said. “This is an asset, especially for women who wish to maintain their roles as lawyers after becoming mothers.” Contract workers’ salaries are paid by the placement agency which then charges the client — usually a firm — an hourly fee. While temporary workers generally don’t get health insurance benefits, they often have a larger gross income than some full-time permanent attorneys. Some agencies also provide temps with paid holidays after a certain number of hours, as well as reimbursement for bar membership fees or professional dues. With more employment options than ever, it is clearly an associate’s market. Young lawyers can be much more choosy about which jobs they take and which agencies they want to get them there. After associates find the right fit in their legal recruiter, they can begin to work with that agency on finding the right fit in a law firm. The first step in achieving the perfect match is often to find the perfect matchmaker.

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