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Tower Snow Jr.’s comments sent chills through the otherwise sunny National Association of Legal Search Consultants conference last week. Though it was obvious to all of the legal headhunters who attended that last year’s windfall of placement deals probably won’t be repeated, the Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison chairman’s call for severe scrutiny of their value sent them whispering and scurrying. Recruiters — who are feeling the pinch of a weakened economy and competition from the Internet — were sensitive to Snow’s remarks. “It was basically, ‘we’re not going to use headhunters anymore,’ ” said Larkspur, Calif., recruiter Scott Dubin of the remarks, even though Snow didn’t actually say that. Snow did say that the days of hefty legal recruiter spending — San Francisco-based Brobeck spent $5 million on legal recruiting fees in 2000 — are over and that the firm is conducting an internal study to test each recruiter’s efficiency in resume screening and their track record on finding lawyers who end up on partner track. “Some thought it was sobering, others thought he was just blowing smoke,” said Los Angeles recruiter Roberta Kass of Seltzer Fontaine & Beckwith, who said her firm has just had to shift its focus toward lateral partner placement. Like most recruiters, Kass said that firms are hungrier to hire partners with portable and attractive books of business. “Law firms are looking expressly for revenue sources,” said Southern California recruiter Larry Watanabe. He said his firm, Watanabe & Nason, is healthy right now because 85 percent of its revenues are driven by partner-level placements — a mix he said is unusual in a market where firms have been flush with corporate work and ravenous for associates for the last few years. Kass said she’s finding it nearly impossible to place well-credentialed early-career corporate associates. The hiring demand, she said, has shifted toward bankruptcy lawyers and litigators. She said she’s also seen an increase in “opportunistic” firms looking to “cherry-pick” lateral partners from firms where internal issues may have been overlooked in a flush economy, but where the same issues make partners ready to leave now. Kass, like many of the recruiters at the two-day conference, tried to portray the field’s obvious problems in the most positive light possible. “Everything’s less, but we’re still making money,” said Dubin. He said there’s been a shift toward recruiting lawyers for old-line clients that would have been passed over for “sexier Internet clients” last year. Dubin said that in a present search for an in-house position at Waste Management Inc., he’s competing for a placement with a handful of other recruitment firms. “Last year, to get someone to go to Waste Management would have been a difficult search,” he said. “Now, it’s been simple in terms of getting them candidates.” Headhunter Robert Major Jr., of Major, Hagen & Africa, said his firm is spending much more time doing searches for life sciences companies or for old-line clients, such as Del Monte Foods Co., PG&E Corp. and The Clorox Co. “Obviously, we have more time on our hands,” he said. “But hopefully we’re doing our work better than we were last year, when we were just rushing to get resumes out of the door.” But Watanabe said that about 80 percent of most recruiter revenues are generated by associate placements, and with associate hiring in a lull, there is no doubt that recruiters are suffering. “There’s just a larger body of people going after what is now a far, far, far smaller segment of the available market,” said Watanabe, who did not attend the conference. “I would expect a lot more recruiter conflicts and duplication of representation by the same recruiter. There’s not enough work out there for the recruiters.”

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