The trend isn’t new, but in this economy, it’s not uncommon to see companies resort to “Do It Yourself Recruiting.” After all “Why should I use a recruiter and pay a fee for a job I can do on my own?” The sentiment is that there are so many job seekers out there that it can’t be that hard to find talent. You can choose a DIY recruiting solution, but the reality is that it’s not always the cheapest or easiest solution. In fact, you may come up empty handed.
A Tale of DIY Recruiting Gone Wrong...
Recently, we received a call from a director of human resources at a growing company who tried the "DIY" approach to legal recruiting. She had been tasked with recruiting for a replacement General Counsel, and decided that she would go ahead and handle the recruiting herself. She posted the job on several websites and quickly started to receive resumes…a lot of resumes!
The sheer bulk of the resumes received took this director and her staff more than fifty percent of their time to review and process. Rather than being able to handle their day-to-day responsibilities, they soon found themselves strapped with the enormous task of going through hundreds of resumes, not to mention follow-up calls and emails from anxious applicants waiting to hear back on the status of their submissions.
Then came the troubling reality that after sifting through hundreds of resumes and applications, few seem to be a match, at least on paper. Next came the calls to the few applicants they had selected. It soon became clear that none turned out to be a good match – as they unearthed issues related to skill set, personality fit, salary considerations, relocation, references, etc.
In short, after conducting their “DYI Recruiting” they came up empty handed, and the executives were getting increasingly anxious. By the time the human resources director called, they needed someone “yesterday,” and had been spinning their wheels for the past three months. With seemingly so many candidates available, what went wrong?
Can You Tell The Difference Between a Good and a Great Lawyer?
The “DIY” approach is great when the stakes aren’t high. In other words, if the position is not critical to your company, and you can spend months going through endless resumes, then it might work out for you, if you’re lucky. DIY has its limitations and risks. Anyone can review a resume against a set of requirements, yet few people, except for lawyers and legal recruiters, have the expertise or the time to fully go through the resumes and understand what those skills are and how to properly evaluate them. In other words, I could not tell you a good medical specialist from a mediocre one based on a resume and job description alone. Could you?
Legal recruiting is a specialized field; dedicated professionals build entire careers around it. It takes more than writing a job description and posting it on a job board to hire a talented professional. As DIY recruiter, you might understand that your company is looking for someone with M&A experience, but can you evaluate one M&A deal from another? Do you understand the financing aspects of a purchase? Do your candidates? How much did they contribute to the deal? Are they paper pushers or strategists? Can you tell the difference?
Are You Passively Collecting Resumes of Actively Targeting Candidates?
The reality is that bulk of any recruiting effort does not involve posting a job and waiting for the phone calls and resumes to pour in. In fact, passive recruiting often yields very little results. You often get the resumes of job seekers you are desperate to get back into the job force and will tailor their resumes to any job just to get their foot in the door. Successful legal recruiting is the result of professional networking and technical understanding; knowing the right players in the industry, identifying and seeking out the right talent for a specific opportunity within a specific company, and properly evaluating a candidate’s technical skills.
Recruiting is not only about being able to review a resume; it’s about digging deep into a candidate’s background, skills, and motivations to determine if they are a good fit. Effective legal recruiters spend a great deal of time screening candidates, gaining an understanding of their credentials, experience, skill, abilities, style, salary history, motivation, and personality fit as it relates to the company that is hiring. They will do this process many times over and only send the viable candidates that match the company fit. A hiring manager may only see a few candidates from a recruiter, but that recruiter has most likely sorted and interviewed dozens in the process. An internal recruiter seldom has the time or resources to do this.
Are You Selling This Opportunity Based on Your Market Knowledge?
Legal recruiters don’t only screen and source candidates; they also sell the company and the position. They seek out to fully understand the unique selling points of the company and the position to effectively relate them to candidates and create a level of interest that will continue through the offer stage. This is called “pre-closing.” The best candidates aren’t simply looking for a job they are seeking “opportunities.” It can take great finesse and communication skills to make that connection. It also takes a great deal of knowledge of the legal market to be able to provide an accurate representation of the position as it relates to other opportunities. Savvy candidates can tell the difference between a baseless pitch and one based on market knowledge and understanding.
How Well Do You Know In-House Salaries and Comparable Compensation?
Market knowledge also means understanding compensation. Often DIY internal recruiters base salary on what a predecessor was earning; or when there was none, on budget considerations. Often, they go in blind, without a real understanding of what “market” compensation is for the type of candidate they are seeking to hire.
When salary comes into play, as it always does, a legal recruiter can educate all parties about the numbers and trends for their industry and location. As legal recruiters this is all that we do; we study the job market and speak with hiring companies and employed professionals constantly. As a result, we can share figures that accurately reflect market conditions, and work with internal recruiters to modify a candidate’s profile to match compensation requirements as well. This eliminates the need to second-guess what a workable package can consist of, having to cut discussion short with good candidates because compensation is not up to par, or wasting time or candidates in drawn out salary negotiations.
In Other Words...
Next time you are thinking about DIY legal recruiting, think about what it's going to take to deliver the right hire to your company. My grandmother said it best, "the cheapest solutions often turn out to be the most expensive." For anyone who has attempted to be a weekend warrior and try DIY solutions, you might know exactly what I mean. Do it right the first time, and hire professionals to do the job.
Why then are corporate executives so tightfisted when dealing with what is so commonly thought of as the “heartbeat” of their companies . . . top-talent?
Companies think very little about paying the often excessive fees charged by their outside accounting and legal firms . . . or even to the gaggle of consultants who promise cost-cutting and streamlining miracles in other areas of operations.
Yet, when faced with brain drains, talent deficiencies or the need to replace a legal counsel with a better one, their thoughts too often turn to parsimony. This K-mart mentality belies and contradicts their stated objectives to “hire the best,” especially at pecking order levels below the “big picture” executive suite inhabitants.
Of course recruiting fees can vary from legal search firm to legal search firm but, when they do, you will almost always find that those on the low side are sure to exclude some very key ingredients of the process, all of which are vital to providing the indispensable services necessary to satisfy the needs of the employer.
So why are legal recruiters worth what they charge? Just a few of the often unspoken reasons are:
Nobody knows the legal marketplace better than a professional legal recruiter or legal search firm . . . nobody! In-house human resources and company recruiters, no matter how effective, view the legal marketplace through an imperfect or misrepresentative prism, and tunnel vision is their occupational hazard.
Just as physicians are cautioned against treating members of their own families, so too is it folly for an in-house H/R professional to believe that they have an undistorted and unbiased picture of the legal employment landscape. They are vulnerable to the pressures of internal politics and cultural dimensions which do not hinder the outsider.
Street-smart legal recruiters already know the neighborhood, including the unlisted addresses so often overlooked by the insiders.
2. CAST A WIDER NET
A professional fisherman will always have more to show than a weekend angler. Legal search firms are in the legal marketplace day in and day out. They know the unfished coves, reefs and inlets that are unknown to others. The job-hunter bookshelves are filled with lore about the “hidden legal job market.” The same holds true for professional legal recruiters who have a detailed roadmap to the hidden talent sources which will never be accessed by newspaper ads, alumni associations, applicant databases, job boards or any of the other more familiar sources of people.
There are occasional pearls through these sources (and someone inevitably wins the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes too) but you have to shuck an awful lot of smelly oysters to find them. Legal search firm only give you oysters proven to contain pearls. Your only job is to determine which pearl is the best.
Want to catch what you’re fishing for? Hire a guide!
There is a misconception among employers that the cost of an attorney hire equals the cost of the ads or Internet postings run to attract the attorney hired. Nothing could be further from reality.
Try adding these to the true cost and you’ll see just how cost effective an outside recruiter can be:
- Salaries and benefits of the employment/recruiting staffs plus those of the line managers involved in the hiring activity (who are not productive in their normal job pursuits when they’re out recruiting).
- Travel, lodging and entertainment expenses of in-house recruiters; source development costs; overhead expenses including but not limited to telephone, office space, postage, and PR literature.
- Applicant database maintenance, reference checking, clerical costs to correspond with the hundreds of unqualified respondents, etc.
4. UNBIASED THIRD PARTY INPUT
For a mid to senior-level attorneys, the average legal recruiter may develop a “long list” of a hundred or more possibilities. Each must be called and evaluated against the position specifications as well as the personality “fit” with the company and the people with whom they will ultimately work. Once this is winnowed down to the “short list,” an even more intensive interviewing process begins to narrow the search to a panel of finalists for review by the client.
This process is not, as some believe, simply romping through the file cabinets, harvesting from the Monster lookalikes or putting the job opening out to others on the legal recruiter’s network with crossed fingers that someone good will show up.
It is highly unlikely that a legal search firm will be plowing new ground with your opening. They deal within spheres of influence far more familiar with your needs than any internal recruiter and, more often than not, view the finalists as people who are competent to solve client problems rather than just fill an open slot in the organizational chart.
Because they want to do business with you again and again, they are looking for (and challenging you to excellence by hiring) the “truly exceptional” rather than the “just satisfactory” so often settled for by in-house hirers.
Advertising or otherwise publicly proclaiming an opening, aside from its cost and demonstrated ineffectiveness for sensitive senior level counsel openings, often creates anxiety and apprehension among the advertiser’s current employees who wonder why they aren’t being considered or worry about newcomer transition problems. Just as often it alerts competitors to a current weakness or void within the company.
The recruiting process is always faster through a legal search firm that is continually tapped into the talent marketplace than one having to start the process from scratch. For every day that a key opening remains unfilled, a company’s other employees must grudgingly do double duty, or a company may need to rely more extensively on expensive outside legal counsels. And this doesn’t factor in the profit opportunities or competitive advantages lost to a company because a position remains unfilled or is done on a part-time basis by others less qualified.
7. POST HIRE DOWNTIME
Not only is speed an essential part of the legal search firm’s process, the ability to locate an attorney who can immediately “hit the ground running” with a minimum of “ramp-up time” saves time and money after the hire. All too often, a hire selected through less effective sources offering a smaller talent pool requires several months of expensive training and orientation.
Legal search firms often recognize and have a duty to inform clients that they may be mistaken as to the type of person sought, the salary required to attract them, or the possibilities that the solution might just lie in areas outside the traditional target industries . . . something an internal recruiter is politically disinclined to do. Too many hirers fail to understand that a legal recruiter’s primary function is not necessary to fill a slot, but to provide the right candidate to solve a problem.
Master negotiator Herb Cohen says that, “negotiation is the analysis of information, time and power to affect behavior . . . the meeting of needs (yours and others’) to make things happen the way you want them to.” As a buffer and informed intermediary, legal search firms are better able to blend the needs and wants of both parties to arrive at a mutually beneficial arrangement without the polarizing roadblocks which too frequently materialize in face-to-face dealings.
10. PRIORITIZING COMPANY RESOURCES
It is often amazing to see how much of a company’s revenues are squandered on non-productive perks for existing high-level employees while they penny-pinch on what is every company’s lifeblood . . . talent acquisition.
Club memberships and the like may be fine, but no one with an IQ higher than Forrest Gump’s believes that these expenditures substantially contribute to a company’s profit margin. But one well-placed general counsel save a company a tremendous amount of money. And the fee for having hired these legal counsels pales to insignificance when compared to the contributions they make to the bottom line.
The next time you think a legal recruiter’s fees are too high, put them in the proper perspective before asking for that Blue Light special or spinning your wheels thrashing about trying to fill vital openings with less effective (but not necessarily less expensive) pedestrian methods. Savvy executives learned long ago that the fee paid to a legal recruiter is a shrewd strategic investment, not an extraneous expense. They also know that the “best” is far different from the “best available.”
As current lawyers reach retirement age between 2010 and 2015, most companies lack formal succession plans to prepare for the eventual departure of these senior attorneys.
One of the most critical components of business survival for most companies, but yet most often overlooked, is the planning for the internal succession of key leaders, including those in corporate legal departments.
That said, creating and implementing a succession plan takes time, resources, and most companies do not give it the attention it deserves. However, without a formal succession plan, companies may find themselves confronted with a costly brain drain.
Companies may stand to not only lose institutional knowledge and relationships, but also experience a lag in productivity, and bear the added financial costs associated with not having someone readily available to take on a key position.
It may take many years to identify and groom an attorney to advance into a leadership role; therefore, companies should start to invest the time and resources to develop succession plans as soon as possible.
While succession planning is not an exact science, here are some suggestions for corporate legal departments to consider when developing a succession plan:
1. Identify Potential Successors
Starting with a short list, select the attorney(s) who show the most potential and who work(s) well with the organization. Is there a likely candidate or an unlikely candidate missing from the list?
2. Develop a Formal Training & Mentoring Plan It is important to implement training and mentoring programs for high-potential employees, and include them in strategy discussions relating to the operation of the department. This will provide succession candidates the opportunity to build their skills and leadership abilities in practice management, new business development, marketing, strategic planning, and client service.
3. Establish a Timetable
Orienting an individual into a successor’s role takes time. At minimum, a 12-month window gives both parties the opportunity to transfer knowledge and manage relationships.
4. Plan the Transition
Let employees learn from the person they will be replacing. They should work together on projects, interact at the board of directors meetings, participate in client meetings, and otherwise get involve in the day-to-day activities and responsibilities of the position. Having the successor shadow his or her successee can be one of the most valuable way to impart and retain knowledge.
Skillfully done, succession planning can safeguard legal department from the “brain drain” that the Baby Boomer retirements might cause, as well as the high financial costs of finding a replacement.
The increased complexity of the general counsel role has made filling these vacancies more challenging than ever. Even the most experienced CEOs and human resource professionals can find it difficult to effectively assess candidates and identify the more subtle skills required for this position. Here are five suggestions for companies to consider when hiring a general counsel:
The most effective way to replace a departing general counsel is to elevate a candidate from a company’s existing legal department. Increasingly, general counsels are becoming responsible for creating succession plans, serving as mentors and developing internal talent. These efforts often result in strong internal candidates being available for the general counsel position.
While internal candidates should be a part of every company’s long-term succession planning process, not every company can support this type of activity. This process typically requires that a company already have a general counsel in place, as well as enough internal attorneys with the experience and competencies required to develop as general counsel candidates. In other words, succession planning works best in larger legal departments. Where a company seeks its first general counsel or does not have the bandwidth to grow internal candidates, outside recruiting becomes the obvious method of sourcing general counsel candidates.
2. Prioritize Core Competencies
The greatest barrier to successfully hiring a general counsel comes from improper management of expectations. In general, companies that are looking to hire their first general counsel tend to look for the “perfect” candidate rather than the “right” candidate. While these two categories do not have to be mutually exclusive, the approach used for each can yield very different results. The real problem lies in burdening the “perfect” candidate description with a slate of requirements that are generally unnecessary and unrealistic, rather than identifying and prioritizing core competencies required for the role as they relate specifically to the company.
Most companies would be thrilled to hire the general counsel of a major public company with all of the sophistication and hauteur that someone in this position would bring. However, not only is this exclusive candidate pool extremely small, but also most companies don’t have the wherewithal to recruit these types of candidates. Most importantly, the great majority of companies don’t need a general counsel from this candidate pool. The biggest challenge facing these recruiting companies is to set appropriate requirements and expectations for its general counsel candidates. While these requirements can be exacting, decision makers need to be realistic about identifying competencies that are truly important and relevant to the role in their company.
Being realistic at the outset of the search, and setting meaningful priorities and requirements will result in generating a strong pool of candidates from which one candidate will make an excellent fit. Companies who stay focused on long wish lists will not only narrow the candidate pool unnecessarily, but will also risk keeping a critical position open for several month, or make a hire who seems perfect on paper but who will fail because of cultural fit issues. Some of the competencies that companies should consider when searching for a general counsel include:
- Combining strong technical skills, sharp intellect, and experience to resolve difficult, complex legal and business problems.
- Being able to effectively manage diverse personalities and relationships, internally and externally.
- Thinking outside of the box, and being able to come up with new and creative ideas in business and legal matters.
- Leading others by communicating a compelling vision that moves individuals, teams, and the organization to perform at a higher level and embrace change.
- Seeing the trees in the forest and being able to focus on critical tasks that add value.
- Communicating effectively at all levels of the organization, in written and verbal communication.
- Delegating by making individuals accountable, providing feedback, as well as recruiting, mentoring, and growing talent for current and future roles.
In conducting a general counsel search, your organization needs to be ready to invest financially, as well as in terms of time and effort. Since the general counsel will act as the trusted advisor to the CEO, the process will be more successful if those conducting the search involve the CEO early and often. Rather than only including the CEO in the initial meeting or on the review of the final candidate(s), the CEO should be regularly included in each step of the process. To recruit the best, even in a down economy, companies also need to be willing to invest financially. While general counsels make transitions for a variety of reasons that are not always financially related, high performers are usually looking for comparable if not better compensation packages than what is being offered by their current company. Today’s general counsels are compensated at levels similar to other members of the senior management team. It is not unusual for a general counsel to be one of the top five most highly compensated company executives. What do the general counsels at the nation’s top companies earn? According to a 2009 Corporate Counsel survey, general counsels at Fortune 500 companies make:
- An average salary of $596,393
- An average bonus of $1.16 million
- An average stock award of $1.1M
- An average option award of $669,719
Companies that can establish disciplined yet flexible guidelines will be able to recruit outstanding candidate quickly and effectively. Technical skills, good business judgment, management skills, and fit with the organization are all critical. That said, there are certain areas where a company can show some flexibility and still be able to recruit excellent candidates without having to “settle.”
While companies tend to prefer to hire general counsels that come from their specific industry, some flexibility in this area can be afforded without having to compromise on competencies. If candidates in a company’s primary industry are in short supply, it may be appropriate to look to related industries for prospects. For instance, if a company is highly regulated, candidates from other highly regulated sectors can bring the type of experience a company would benefit from. Conversely, there can also be crossovers between industries that are not highly regulated, such as the consumer or industrial sector. While this might not apply to companies in certain industries that require industry-specific experience because of the specific regulatory nature or the complexity of the sector, such as healthcare or financial services, most other companies can benefit from considering candidates in crossover industries.
5. Consider Professionals
Today’s general counsel is a critical member of a corporation’s senior leadership – an accomplished legal professional who will be required to provide top-flight legal and business advice. Evaluating and quantifying the skills required when assessing candidates for general counsel positions can be challenging, even for the most experienced CEOs. Conducting a search for a general counsel is not only complex and challenging, but it is also a time consuming and costly process that a company cannot afford to miss. As a result, an increasing number of companies are turning to professional legal recruiting firms to fill their general counsel positions.
Legal recruiting firms can advise companies on the type of person and salary required to attract top talent, as well as devise strategies to recruit the right individual in accordance with the company’s needs and requirements. Professional legal recruiting firms maintain a constant stream of qualified candidates and potential job seekers. They are intimately connected with the legal community in both law firms and corporations. As a result, they can offer companies the type of qualified candidates they would not be able to find on their own through online or newspaper ads, alumni associations, applicant databases, job boards or other familiar sources of people. Most legal recruiters are also former attorneys. As a result, these legal recruiters tend to be better positioned than laypersons to evaluate another attorney’s skills and aptitude, and identify “great” from merely "good" attorneys. In other words, legal recruiting firms are designed to deliver faster and better results, saving a company both time and money.
1. Hire People, Not Law Firms
2. Be There When I Need You
3. Do What You Say You Are Going to Do
4. Get to Know Me
5. Don’t Surprise Me
6. Make Me Look Good
7. Consider the Economics of the Matter
8. Finally, Be Nice to My Staff
What Vendors need to do:
- GC's hire people they know, like, and trust, not just firms/companies. It’s up to you to go out there, form relationships, and take the time to develop them.
- Clients demand responsiveness, and in this day and electronic, that means availability 24/7.
- Set realistic expectations, always meet your deadlines, and follow through on your commitments.
- Set realistic expectations, and take the time to get to know as much as possible about GC's and their companies.
- Clients hate surprises, so try to eliminate them as much as possible.
- Make GC's look good, and find ways to add value to the relationship.
- Remember that this is a business; you need be sensitive to the economics of a project.
- Common courtesy to all goes a long way; treat everyone as you would like to be treated.
It makes a lot of business development sense to listen to what general counsels have to say. The economic viability of your company may depend on it.