An Introduction to Legal Recruiting for Law Firms

Are you bored with your desk specialty? Want to expand your current practice? Have you been given an assignment to recruit an attorney but don’t know what to do? This article is designed to give an overview of legal recruiting, its terminology and some basic research tools to get you started.

The Legal World, Analyzed

Law school is a three-year rigorous academic program offered by most major universities after the successful completion of an undergraduate degree. After taking required coursework in contracts, civil procedure, criminal law, constitutional law, legal drafting and real property, law students typically earn a Juris Doctorate or J.D. degree.

After graduation, the new attorney is eligible to take a state bar examination which enables them to practice law in the state of their choosing. Without a bar license, the attorney cannot represent clients or otherwise render legal advice.

Usually, after being admitted to the Bar, an attorney often joins a law firm and begins as an associate. As such, their work and client interaction are supervised by both senior associates and partners. Most associates strive to become a partner in a firm just as a corporate employee “climbs up the ladder.”

To become partner, associates are on a career track lasting anywhere from 4 years (for local, smaller firms)- 12+ years (larger, national firms). At the end of the track, provided the candidate’s work quality is excellent and other professional qualifications are achieved, the lawyer may be asked to become a partner in the firm.

While partnership used to automatically mean that the new partner was given equity and voting rights (ie: a true partner), it more often means that the new partner initially becomes a contract or income partner and does not formally share in a percentage of the firm’s profits (or losses). If, however, during the partnership track, the attorney generates a large amount of their own clients, then a true equity partnership is possible.

Associate/Partner Recruiting

Most positions that legal recruiters recruit for are associate jobs requiring approximately 3+ years of experience. It is rare that junior attorneys and new graduates ever can benefit from the services of a recruiter due to their lack of experience.

Hot specialty areas include litigation (ie: courtroom/trial work), real estate, corporate law (for both public and private corporations) and bankruptcy. As in other industries, law firm recruiting is often run through the human resource department (recruiting coordinator) and the recruiter is either contacted about an opening from the recruiting coordinator directly, a hiring partner or by openings posted on a firm website.

Of course, recruiters also market qualified candidates directly to law firms. The techniques of recruiting attorneys are essentially the same for any other type of recruiting with the fundamental difference being the profession-specific terminology which must be learned.

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In addition, law firms are always searching for new partners or groups of partners with large,portable “books of business.” The desirability of such lateral partners is dependent on three main variables: amount of portable business (which usually has to be at least $500,000 in fee originations to attract the interest of a major law firm), practice area (ie, a high demand and market-driven speciality like real estate or intellectual property), and a competitive hourly billing rate based on their experience and skill (usually $300+ per hour).

As a rough rule of thumb, it takes 2-3x longer to place a partner level candidate than an associate due to the amount of due diligence involved, the checking for case/client conflicts, and the structuring of a compensation package. Of course, due to the larger salaries involved, partner placements can be very lucrative if structured properly.

Research Tools

Without question, anyone desiring to find attorneys in any geographic area should consider three primary sources: the Martindale Hubbell law directory (the “Martindale”), the Internet for any particular law firm’s web page and the state Bar Association for a comprehensive listing of its members.

By far, the Martindale is the most complete and easiest to use directory and lists a majority of attorneys in every state. Using a CD Rom sold by Martindale, you can search for attorneys by school, firm, state, graduation year, etc. to streamline your search parameters. As a cautionary note, however, while Martindale is an excellent resource, it should be used as a basis to commence a search and not as the only method of candidate sourcing. It is also helpful to view a law firm’s website to learn more about the firm’s attorneys, practice and culture.

Finally, state Bar Associations usually have a comprehensive and searchable website to learn whether or not an attorney has been admitted to the bar, if he/she is a member in good standing, and approximately how many years they have been licensed.

Joseph E. Ankus is one of Florida's leading legal recruiters with over 13 years of experience in associate and partner placement. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Joe recruits attorneys primarily in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. In addition to being a licensed Florida attorney, Joe also offers recruitment training to recruiting firms, law firms and corporations. To learn more about his background and recruiting seminars, visit his website,  email him, or call Joe at 954.349.4428.

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