Interview with Jennifer
How long have you been a legal recruiter and what led you to working candidate facing?
After having my children, I was looking for a change so that I would be more available for them. I had agreed to have lunch with a recruiter I met and during lunch he made a convincing case for trying recruiting and agreed to train me if I would work with his company.
That was in 2009.
The 2008 downturn meant that many firms were forced to lay off attorneys instead of doing their usual hiring. We found that our New Jersey law firm clients hadn’t been in the same mortgage-backed securities markets as the large New York firms, so they weren’t experiencing the same losses. They were in the rare position of being able to attract better talent than before, because they could still afford to hire. We developed a niche practice moving associates from the best law schools and firms to anywhere they wanted to go in New Jersey. In turn, those lawyers got a better chance at partnership, better work/life balance, and more job security. As a result, I had a chance to really get to know the people and practices in New Jersey and the New Jersey marketplace became my focus.
After almost ten years with that company, I started Gillman Strategic Group to focus solely on law firm partner placement from the candidate’s point of view.
Who are the candidates that you work with exactly?
We work with successful law firm partners or groups who have their own clients and a significant amount of portable business, but have realized that their law firm is the wrong fit for them, an issue which is preventing them from best serving their clients and maximizing their compensation, and usually making them feel unappreciated too.
The wrong fit can be for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a lack of necessary practice areas at the current firm, which means that the partner has to turn away work or not go after it. Other times, the billing rates that go up every year get too high for their clients. It might be that they can’t attract and retain the right team because their firm isn’t well-known enough or can’t pay enough. Sometimes it’s a lack of cross-selling/cross-marketing opportunities. Other partners find their clients grow and need offices in additional locations that their current firm doesn’t have. And compensation is often a factor – partners often feel like they’re being taken advantage of at their current firm and being paid below market. It may also be that they disagree with the direction the firm is taking, or are worried about the firm’s lack of succession plan. A lot of times it’s simply the wrong firm culture and they just don’t like their partners.
Whatever the reason is, they are likely to be feeling dissatisfied or unappreciated in some way. These partners are already successful lawyers, but they could be even more successful if they had the right platform.
How are you different from other recruiters?
We only work with law firm partners and solo practitioners, and the only thing we do is help them find a better fit at another law firm (not in-house or in a government position).
We arealso candidate facing, not law firm facing. What that means for the lawyers that work with us, is that we are not trying to fill a particular job opening, we are instead looking to help them find their exact right perfect fit law firm. There is no particular law firm that we only work with, so our candidates have all the opportunities open for them, rather than a single opportunity.
We take a very long-term view of this process and will be a true teammate in finding what the partner needs at the next firm. We don’t rush anyone into these big decisions because the matchmakers we are, want to make sure that this law-firm “marriage” has the potential to last forever.
We are also very honest and will tell a partner when it’s just not possible to find what he or she is looking for or if it is best for them to stay where they are for the time being.
If what the partner is looking for is realistic, we get creative and think outside the box to make sure that our candidates are happy and are getting the right opportunities.
What types of personality do you work best with and what is expected of me?
We work best with candidates who want to truly partner with us to find a better fit. Once we agree to start this process together, we will expect you to answer questions about your clients, collections, billing rate, and other relevant issues. We need to work as a team, so there is no negotiating with us. We need complete and accurate information so that we can negotiate on your behalf.
We take on as much of the legwork as possible, but there are some things we will expect from you. Although we know you are likely very busy, it’s important that you set aside a little time to have initial meetings with the small number of firms that interest you, and some more time to follow up with the smaller number of firms that you would consider moving your practice to. This is an important decision, so you must give it some attention. Of course, the firms understand how busy you are and will try to set meetings at the most convenient times (and even understand if there is a client emergency which necessitates rescheduling).
What type of professional will your services not work for?
We want to team up with our candidates, not compete with them. Therefore, our services won’t work for a partner who wants to use us to contact some firms, but also plans to reach out to some firms on his or her own and try to work independently with them. The process works better when we are the initial point of contact with all of the firms you decide to consider.
While we understand how busy you must be, this won’t work well for either of us unless you can commit a little time to the interview process and agree to answer our questions and those of the firms you get into the later stages with. It’s also a bad idea to continually cancel and reschedule interviews, unless it’s a true emergency.
We will also need you to work on a Business Plan if you don’t already have one. It’s quite beneficial for the interview process and has most of the information you’ll need to answer any Lateral Partner Questionnaires that you’re asked to complete later in the process. Don’t worry, if you don’t have time to do it yourself, we’ve teamed up with a business development expert who can help.
What exactly do you do to help your clients find the right fit?
I think it is best said in this 2 minute video which explains the process (https://vimeo.com/386852983)
What results can I expect if I move to a firm that’s the perfect match?
Once you move to a firm that’s the right fit, your work will start to feel more effortless. You’ll have all of the practice areas your clients need so you will be able to handle all of their work, at rates that make sense. You’ll be able to attract and retain the right team and enjoy cross-selling with your colleagues. As a result, instead of working crazy hours at the office just to keep up, you’ll have a team to assist you with your practice and receive generation credit for your client work that goes to other practice groups. Therefore, you’ll find yourself working fewer hours for increased compensation, with clients that are happier with the service they’re receiving, and you’ll have more time outside of the office.
What’s the timeline for this process?
Part of the answer is under your control. It depends on how quick you are to set up meetings and how responsive you are about getting firms the information they ask for, so that their management team can reach a decision on making you an offer. Of course, part of this schedule is based upon the availability of those partners you have to meet with and those partners who are needed to make decisions, so we don’t have complete control.
Generally, once you make the decision to move forward and approach some firms, it can be as little as a month until you accept an offer, but usually takes a number of months, and of course firms will understand if you’d prefer a slower timetable.
I’m so busy as it is just serving my current clients, how will I find the time to do all of this?
Not finding the time to find a better fit is part of the reason that you’re so busy. The longer you put this off, the longer you will be stuck in the office for long hours, knowing that you’re not fully serving your clients’ needs and not maximizing your compensation. Finding a better fit is important enough to your future to make some time for.
We will be there to help you the whole way and do as much of the legwork as possible. We’ve also created an option for partners who need faster service or more of a done for you approach, which we can discuss if that applies to you.
How do you get compensated?
We get compensated by the firm you join, based on a percentage of your guaranteed first year’s compensation. You are not responsible for paying us.
Then aren’t you really employed by the firms you want me to apply to and have their best interests in mind and not mine?
No, that’s not the case for many different reasons. First of all, our professional reputation depends upon finding the best fit for our clients, at a place where they excel and are happy. Although we do have ongoing relationships with most of the firms in New Jersey and our other markets, we also plan to maintain an ongoing relationship with you once we find you the perfect firm.
Secondly, this is just the standard legal recruiting industry method of compensation. All of the firms we submit you to will pay that percentage, so even if you did not trust our professional integrity, and we hope you do, there would be no reason for us to prefer one firm to another.
But I probably know people at all of these firms, why can’t I just do this myself? What value does your company add?
You might know people at many of the firms we approach, but something has stopped you from approaching them, and you’re still at a firm that isn’t the right fit for you.
It puts you in a stronger position to have a third party represent you in this process. You’re someone we mention is doing very well where you are but might consider a meeting, instead of someone who is actively applying for a job. It’s also easier for us to discreetly approach the firms where you know people because then there are no awkward conversations if one of your acquaintances isn’t interested in having you join the firm. And it’s much easier to for us to ask for everything you want when we negotiate your offer, than for you to worry about coming across as greedy.
We also have a lot of insider information about the strategic plans of each of the firms and which practice areas they’ve told us they want to expand, as well as their usual billing rates, compensation methods, and the general firm culture. And we know a lot of the partners you’ll be meeting.
Since you’re so busy, we work behind the scenes to keep your search for the right fit moving forward while you serve your existing clients and market to new ones. We take care of all the back and forth on scheduling and other mundane matters and only involve you in the parts you care more about. Therefore, we can get more done as a team than you can on your own.
OK, you’ve convinced me. I would like to work together. How do we get started?
We’ll set up an initial meeting (or at least a long call) so we can get to know each other a little and we can get a good sense of what you’re looking for. Ahead of that meeting, we will send you some questions we need you to think about, so that we have enough information to maximize our time together.