Daily Journal

Web-based Recruiting Firm Shuns Cold Calls

LOS ANGELES, June 25, 2006 – Michael Allen had few dealings with legal search companies as a practicing attorney, but they were enough to convince him that he could do it better.

First, there were recruiters’ cold calls, usually two or three a day, which he grew to loathe. When Allen used a reputable Los Angeles recruiter during his own lateral move from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to Irell & Manella, the experience left him underwhelmed.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t really clear that the headhunter knew what he was selling or that he understood the different industries I was looking at,” Allen said. “Yeah, he got me an interview, but it wasn’t really him. It was my resume that did it.”

In June, Allen launched his own legal search firm. Called Lateral Link, it’s a Web-based business staffed by former practicing attorneys who’ve sworn off the recruiter’s traditional staple, cold-calling candidates.

“This is a very unusual model,” said Marina Sirras, the president of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants. “I’ve never heard of anything like it.”

To use Lateral Link, candidates create a profile with basic information, including their practice area, law school, years of experience and geographical location, as well as a resume with identifying information redacted to maintain confidentiality. The candidates can search Lateral Link’s job bank, but company names are also redacted from the listings.

Law firms or businesses looking for in-house attorneys can submit queries based on whatever criteria they choose. Lateral Link then performs a database search, and if any candidates’ profiles fulfill these criteria, the company sends a message telling them that an anonymous firm might be interested, and asking whether they’d like to send a redacted resume.

If the candidates choose to send their resume, one of Lateral Link’s six consultants makes sure the people are qualified before forwarding them. The parties reveal their identities only after serious, mutual interest.

Although posting an Internet profile and waiting for responses seem to define passivity, some candidates seek additional services from Allen, who provides advice and promotes them to firms.

“We’ve centralized the process” on the Web, he said, “but we’re not out of the process.”

So far, Lateral Link has a roster of 190 candidates and relationships with “a handful” of firms and is “in the process of placing four people,” Allen said.

Lateral Link charges the industry-standard recruiting fee, 25 percent of a candidate’s first-year salary. The company, at this point, focuses on placing associates.

But because Lateral Link eschews cold calls to practicing attorneys, some legal recruiters think the company may be at a disadvantage.

Amber Handman, a recruiter at Seltzer Fontaine Beckwith, said the types of candidates law firms are willing to pay the recruiting fee for are the ones who aren’t looking for a job. Often, a phone call out of the blue is the only way to reach them.

“Recruiting companies have to sell their product to firms’ recruiting coordinators, and that will only work if the quality of resume is high,” Solutus recruiter Karen Kupetz said. “So one issue that [Lateral Link] will have to deal with is attracting and retaining top talent, and there’s a question whether it has a means for doing that.”

Rather than cold-calling or sending spam e-mails, Lateral Link is using referrals. By trading on connections from elite law schools and firms, Allen sees Lateral Link as a home for top-notch talent.

The company’s unorthodox business model features one more wrinkle, paying a $10,000 bonus to candidates whom it places.

“Wow. That is definitely against our code of ethics,” Sirras said. “That is a no-no, and I consider it very unethical.”

Sirras claimed that the recruiting-fee agreements of most major law firms stipulate the expectation that search firms will abide by the national association’s code of ethics.

“No employer has suggested that I need to belong to that organization to work with them, and a number of employers have said they’d never heard of the National Association of Legal Search Firms,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, employers want talent, and I’m taking a hit on my profits to provide talent in a more efficient way.”

Allen got the idea for the bonus by looking at how the mutual-funds business operates. The fee also acts as an incentive for associates who otherwise might stay around for their January bonuses.

And although Lateral Link has consultants in six locations nationwide, it doesn’t rent office space, which means low overhead costs. Allen said the company could afford to “pass the savings on” in the form of the bonus.

The bonus was one of the reasons an associate at a major Orange County law firm decided to use Lateral Link, which she heard about from a friend. She met Allen and received personalized service, and although she’s put her job search on hold, she intends to use the company when she resumes her search.

Although the company is only a month old, some firms are intrigued by its unusual model. “We would consider this one of the many emerging tools to start a conversation with good candidates, but we’ll still use existing methods to both evaluate candidates and attract the best people,” said Peter Kennedy, the managing partner of Reed Smith’s L.A. office. “We try to use personal referrals from trusted colleagues.”

Lateral Link’s business model is unusual and unproven, but recruiters indicated today’s robust legal job market is a welcoming place.

“I have no problem with one more means of people finding a job,” Handman said. “There are certainly plenty of jobs out there.”

~ Robert Iafolla, Daily Journal

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