Much To Gain And Little To Lose From Using The Right Recruiter (Part 2)

Oct 31, 2014 by 0

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced three lawyers — Alpha, Beta, and Gamma — to help explain the value that a partner candidate can gain from working with the right recruiter. Each candidate was relatively junior, each had in the high six figures in business, and each had decided to leave his or her current firm for the right opportunity. When last we left our intrepid trio, I had used no-name profiles at appropriate firms to obtain interviews for each of them.

While I kept in close contact with each candidate throughout the process (see Anatomy of a Lateral Move for an overview of the steps commonly involved), each candidate had unique issues that required particular attention…

For example, Alpha needed help with his business plan in order to make his candidacy more attractive to his targeted firms, a common issue candidates face. At some point after a firm requests more information based on a no-name profile, and usually before wanting the candidate to fill out a Lateral Partner Questionnaire (“LPQ”), many firms want to see a business plan. This is a key sales document that frequently determines whether a candidate with a lower book than the firm usually considers acceptable is allowed to continue in the intake process. The key here is not to repeat your résumé or reiterate an academic description of your practice area, but to demonstrate your worth in concrete and specific terms to the firm.

In Alpha’s case, I was able to strengthen his business plan by emphasizing that his current client had said they would give him additional matters if he had more rate flexibility than his current firm would allow, and thus there was a very good chance Alpha would be able to grow revenues from that client by providing additional services. It is also critical to differentiate yourself from the countless other lawyers that the firm may be considering by explaining why you are uniquely qualified to help clients with current or future legal problems. For someone coming out of government, this differentiation might come from knowing what new regulatory or enforcement initiatives are coming down the pike, what the government will be looking for, and why you are one of the few people on the planet who understands the issues and can counsel clients on how to navigate these dangerous waters. Most important, however, is to list particular individuals at potential clients that you could now reach out to if you had the resources of the new platform. Alpha and I went through at least five drafts of a business plan before sending it off with his résumé, and I think it was critical in landing the three interviews he had. A good recruiter keeps their finger on the market’s pulse and can help augment an attorney’s pitch with information they may never have realized was pertinent.

With Beta, the fit with the two interviewing firms was clear and she didn’t need to prepare a plan. Instead, the issue was how best to fill out the LPQ. While the business plan is a sales document, filling out the LPQ is more like responding to a discovery request with some wiggle room. The most important sections of the LPQ are your history of revenue production and your estimate of best, probable, and worst-case revenue numbers at the new firm.

Two common problems are how to determine what revenue is attributable to you beyond your own billing attorney numbers, and how aggressive to be in your estimates. Lawyers tend to be either unrealistically optimistic or unrealistically pessimistic. When unrealistically optimistic, partners lose credibility, especially if the estimates for future revenue are significantly higher than historical averages (i.e., “hockey stick” projections). When unrealistically pessimistic, partners are less likely to be hired (and if they are, their comp is penalized). With Beta, it took several iterations to attain the Goldilocks solution of “just right”.

Gamma presented another dilemma. Lawyers seeking a lateral move are subject to a variety of ethical obligations with respect to their clients and their current firms. Rather than counsel potential laterals on such matters, especially after an offer has been extended, and risk liability, some hiring firms affirmatively state that they want nothing to do with the lateral’s transition until he or she has been formally hired. In this case, the hiring firm told Gamma to look to me to provide such guidance. Gamma and I had several telephone conversations and email exchanges on what he should and shouldn’t do with respect to notifying his firm, notifying clients, and soliciting other members of his firm to join him.

At the end of the day, despite our best efforts, Alpha did not receive an offer from any of the three firms, which cited the comp demands and the problem of the single client as the reasons they passed. Alpha now knows what his market value is and is not, that his current firm isn’t treating him so badly, and that if he wants to move, he will need to increase his book and diversify his client base.

Beta, on the other hand, received and accepted an offer that was 40% above what she had been making. When she told her current firm that she was leaving, however, the firm recognized the errors of its ways, counter-offered with a guaranteed 65% increase and the commitment of the firm to build up her practice area in her current office (one of the main reasons she decided to look). The firm that made the original offer couldn’t match the terms and she is still at the same firm, but in a far better position than she otherwise would have been. I should stress that candidates should not go into the process thinking that their current firm will react in a similar fashion. In general, candidates that have accepted counters are gone in a year anyway since the trust going both ways has been irreparably breached; Beta’s situation proved to be the exception to the rule (so far).

Gamma received several offers and accepted one that elevated him to partner from his previous counsel title and increased his comp by 20%. His current firm countered with a matching offer but Gamma told them that he had given his word and it was time to move on.

During the dinners I had with each following the completion of the process, they all expressed their gratitude for my efforts and said they were materially better off than they had been before we started. Thus, I respectfully suggest that if you are seriously interested in exploring other opportunities there is much to gain with little downside working with the right recruiter.