After twelve years of grade school, four years of college, three years of law school, and eight years grinding as an associate, you finally make partner…and you are underwhelmed. After so much time, effort, and cost, how could you even consider any alternatives? This perspective is normal, but not necessarily rational, instead its cognitive dissonance rearing its ugly head as effort justification, the phenomenon whereby we inflate the value of outcomes we have worked hard to attain, regardless of their true value. Ultimately, that effort is not a true justification, but our way of reducing this cognitive conflict. Unhappiness is unhappiness is unhappiness, and if you are unhappy, then it may be time to consider other options.
The good news is, there are other avenues that utilize the skills you have cultivated over all of those years of schooling and work, without sacrificing pay. Top legal recruiters are compensated comparably to Am Law 200 partners, but without the pesky billable hour requirements. Both get paid based on their book of business (i.e., eat what you kill) and maintain a stable of relationships that help them bring in business.
I along with many of my colleagues, started out as attorneys at Am Law 200 firms. Throughout the last 15 years as the CEO of Lateral Link, I have found that recruiting is not only personally rewarding, but also very lucrative if you have a fire in your belly. Between the money, flexible hours, collaborative atmosphere, and meaningful work, legal recruiting offers the same upside as partnership with a law firm but without the billable-hour requirement.
Here are some questions that may cross your mind when considering the legal recruiting career:
Can I improve my entrepreneurial skills?
An eat-what-you-kill system is not for everyone and sounds daunting, but the upside is that you are rewarded for your performance. As an associate in Biglaw, it doesn’t matter if you go 15 rounds with Ivan Drago or two rounds; more or less you will get paid the same for hitting close to your hours. That’s a safe place for most attorneys. Countless times I hear attorneys say they want to go on the business side, I just hardly ever see them take the leap. In legal recruiting, you are not paid strictly for putting in the hours. You are paid for performance. The better you perform, the higher the ceiling. The point is, legal recruiting scales with effort; if you are a high performer, you can expect compensation comparable to a partner.
What will my hours look like?
Law is undoubtedly an inflexible industry that has relented somewhat in recent years. With rates easily reaching double the minimum wage, per minute, every minute of every day counts. The more hours you work, the more productive you are for the firm. The workplace can oftentimes be unforgiving for attorneys seeking maternity leave or reduced hours for other reasons. In recruiting, our schedules are much more flexible. Can you slack off? No, but you won’t be up at 4 a.m., Monday morning, writing a motion for summary judgment while testing the toxic potential of the new Redbull/Yerba Mate/Monster mixer you concocted to ward off 40 straight hours of mental exertion.
We have many working mothers and fathers who work from home or schedule their work around their kids so that they can maintain their home life while supporting their family.
How much will I really get paid?
The compensation system is extremely rewarding for legal recruiting. We pay our recruiters between 50-70% of the business they generate. At Lateral Link, we pay above the market rate, and our effective commission is tiered in an increasing structure with an average rate of 60% that benefits a recruiter who brings in more business. Our average recruiter makes more than the average Biglaw associate while getting the opportunity to maintain more of a personal life outside the office. The best part is that you get paid to help people with their careers.
At the higher level, our high performers make what partners earn at Biglaw firms. One deal for a partner with $2 million compensation alone can generate $350,000 for the recruiter’s personal commission. On an average deal, our recruiters will earn around $1,583 for every hour spent on the deal. Of course, deals are not consistently consummated, and much like law practice, not every hour is billable (in this loose sense) — but the time spent on fostering relationships and researching the market is hardly dull or a waste of time.
What is the legal recruiting culture like?
Although not all recruiting firms are similarly situated and I can only speak for Lateral Link, in the recruiting world, inexperience is greeted with constructive help rather than disdain. We work together to help one another and many of the deals we facilitate are split between two recruiters who tackled the task together. For example, my colleague Ryan Belville and I are working on a few possible law firm combinations. Two other colleagues, Bruce Lubin and Zach Sandberg, are working on an acquisition in Mexico City. Many of my colleagues work across regions given local knowledge and relationships. My point is that we work as a team. Our team even meets up every year from all four corners of the globe to enjoy a company retreat together at a rotating location.
It sounds pretty easy, right? Not really. Recruiting is not the easy money that it might sound like. You have to work hard every day to foster relationships and keep up with hundreds of people all the time. If you don’t like people, you won’t like recruiting. You also could go several months without a single placement and then have four in the span of one week. The good news is, our team is hiring. If you think you sound like a good fit for legal recruiting, feel free to send us your résumé at email@example.com.