Fixing the broken law department recruiting model

The model may be broken, but will companies take advice on fixing it from a sports agent?

Happy news for me and my editors: Based on the explosion of re-tweets, last month’s column, “The Talent Shortage Has Arrived,” was the most widely read in its current three-year run. I clearly touched a nerve when discussing the disconnect between demand for junior level attorneys (three to five years) and the supply of desirable candidates as law departments seek to staff at the bottom of their pyramids. Truth resonates.

At the end of last month’s column, I referenced the occasional use of recruiters among companies that are surprised to discover how challenging it is to hire at the staff level. Nonetheless, I wrote that the relationship between law departments and recruiters has become unsatisfying for both parties. In a nutshell, most companies are using a somewhat dysfunctional model for recruiting attorneys, and it’s frustrating the heck out of general counsel. Please bear with me while I take a few paragraphs to explain the problem, and then I’ll propose a solution that may yield some eye rolling within the legal search community. For readers who recall the movie about a sports agent starring Tom Cruise, this will be my “Jerry McGuire” moment.

It’s really the nature of the relationship that needs to change. Serious recruiters want to partner with clients at the starting point of a new opening. We want to provide a holistic service, from proactive sourcing, to handling postings, to in-person screening, to managing expectations, while offering valuable consulting advice along the way. That’s the “old school” approach.

Collectively, however, recruiters have blown it. Too many in the business just want to hit large contingency fees and minimize the time spent on any given assignment. The dysfunctional law department recruiting model feeds right into that mindset. If you are going to wait for six months and come to us only after a self-sourcing effort has failed, then a typical “headhunter” will work hard for a couple of days to unearth the needle-in-haystack resume for you. Gladly. But that’s all the effort you are going to get, because your commitment to the recruiter is minimal and the engagement is viewed as a hit-or-miss proposition. In turn, companies become quickly dissatisfied with search firm service. You are getting the behavior that you are incentivizing.


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Mike Evers

Mike Evers recruits attorneys for corporate legal departments throughout the United States. Please visit His...

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