Hello. I am a headhunter calling from….


Research shows, on average, a BigLaw partner is head hunted 2000 a week. Ok, that is an exaggeration but I am sure to some it feels like that. Unfortunately the barriers to entry are so low in the legal recruitment industry all you need is a phone and the internet. As such, not all recruiters are equal. Lateral partner recruitment is very different to other forms of recruitment as there are so many different issues to consider.

Below are my three top tips to consider when thinking about choosing a head hunter:

  1. Do they work for GSL Partners? No? Don’t use them.

           Ok, the serious part of this post starts now….

  1. What is their track record? A simple point but very important. Experience of partner moves is key and this means they need to have a number of years’ experience. Other issues to consider are the types of firm’s they have worked with and what moves have they brokered in the market. Lateral recruitment throws up so many curve balls such as structure of remuneration, strategy and conflicts that a seasoned recruiter will be able to spot these issues before they come up and save everyone a lot of time. Also, pay less attention to the size of the company. Despite having a strong global brand, GSL is still very small. We are selective with who we work with and don’t take a cookie-cutter approach to recruitment. Compare that to some of the global giants (many of whom are listed businesses) where they are driven simply by quarterly profit reports and as such may take less time to find out what is important to you. Recruitment is a people business rather than a typical B2B enterprise after all.
  1. Are they retained by a firm? I get this question a lot from partners. Other recruiters are always eager to tell the world they are retained by a firm. After all it is a great thing to be retained by a law firm but only for the recruiter and not the partner. This may sound counter to your instincts but in reality, where a recruiter has been retained to call you up they are usually contracted to introduce you only to that firm and no others. This exclusive relationship is great for the recruiter as it means they are not in competition with anyone and a commission is almost guaranteed. But if you are making a life-changing move which will impact everything from your commute to your salary do you really want to speak to one firm or a number of firms to see which offers the best opportunity? GSL works on a retained exclusive basis with 2 firms world-wide. These are firms we truly believe are the best in their space and offer the best opportunity for partners. With these retained clients, if a candidate wishes to speak to other firms I always recommend a competitor I respect but have every confidence my client won’t be bettered. All other firms who wish to work with us do so on a non-exclusive basis so we can offer the best service to our candidates rather than the law firm. The reason for this is simple – if the partner is not happy after their move they will leave and we would have failed both parties.
  1. Long term or short term? You can spot the short term recruiters straight away. They tend to be more salesy, pushier and come from a negative frame of mind (“you have to move, this is your only chance”). These are the people who are looking for the quick win. Now this is not a bad thing necessarily but it means they will try and rush a move at a quicker rate than you are comfortable with. Compare this to a long-term recruiter who takes the time to find out what you want, understands not only your drivers but your business and does not try to sell every opportunity going (tip: if they send you a huge list of firms then they are not thinking long term). Obviously your circumstance dictates the type of recruiter you want. Personally, I rarely work with partners looking to make a quick move unless they can convince me they are not being kicked out of their firm (I only work with those perceived to be leaders in their space and leave the others to my competitors). However, if you are willing to wait before moving and will do so for an opportunity which ticks all of your boxes then my advice is to work with an individual who matches this philosophy. It may take longer for him to make a commission but you can have faith he has your interests at heart.
  1. Does he work for GSL Partners? Yes? Use them.


The opposite of networking is not working


One thing I learnt when I was a trainee solicitor was that most in the profession are useless at networking and business development. I realised many were academically and professionally brilliant but when it came to the softer skills they were lacking. Funnily enough, I also noticed that while I was good at the softer skills (why wouldn’t you ask a client out for dinner to pick his brain on the industry?) I was fairly poor when it came to being a technically strong lawyer. Hence my career in law was relatively short lived (but packed with fun client dinners and drinks)

15 years later and having worked with literally thousands of lawyers around the world my observation is this: most lawyers are terrible at business development. Nothing has really changed and with the exception of a few clients, most firms do nothing to develop this. I understand why this is – the short term benefit of having a lawyer working around the clock and billing more hours far outweighs the long term benefit of a business-developing super lawyer.

Why does it matter?

The legal industry has changed. Clients are institutionalised and the pressures partner’s face in building a business to justify their position is incredible. It never used to be like this and I still sit down with partners who wax lyrical about how developing a business meant a boozy lunch and a £1m instruction. Partners are working longer meaning a lot of them are less willing to share their clients with their junior partners. Most significantly, there is more competition for clients because there are more law firms.

What is the solution?

When I moved into head hunting after my brief time as a lawyer a lot of friends laughed. After all, I was going from a sought after profession to being a salesman (although it took me years to actually admit this is what I did!). The irony is the best lawyers I have moved in my career have also been the best salesmen I have seen. If you want to be a successful lawyer you need to be a successful salesman! This means being able to sell your skill set, your firm, and your ability to solve problems and add value to a client.

What steps can you talk?

  1. Start early: if you are a junior lawyer then make the effort to network with as many professionals you know. Focus on developing your reputation by writing articles and getting your name of press releases. And do not be shy to speak to your clients and keep in contact with them throughout your career. Even write a blog (and hope someone out there is reading it….)
  1. Network! Network! Network! : Get in front of potential clients as much as possible. This means presentations, client events, competitors’ client events and being wherever your clients are going to be. Always follow up with clients but do not make this all about pitching business. I believe networking has become a laborious for some clients as they are constantly pitched to. This goes against my belief that all business is built on personal relationships. Take the time to build personal relationships, stay in touch and when the opportunity to add value arises make sure you have the chance to pitch.
  1. Become a key person of influence in your industry: In every area of law there are maybe a dozen people who are seen as the experts in their area, be it private equity, project finance or family law. These people are technically superb but are equally excellent at building their personal brand. They publish articles, give interviews, have a strong social media presence and are rated in key directories. When you (or should I say your client) googles them they are presented with a wall of evidence that these individuals are the people they need on their team. The interesting thing is they are no different to the other 98% of lawyers who aren’t in this position – they just invest in their personal brand as much as their technical abilities. How do you know if you are a key person of influence? Google yourself and decide.

There are obviously dozens more tips for business development but these are a few of my preferred ones. Moreover, the challenges faced by partners in develop a business are different (and far harder) when compared to a junior lawyer. However, don’t underestimate and forget about the importance of business development – it is of equal importance with technical skills when it comes to succeeding in this career.


Do you do in-house moves?


I must admit – I hate this question. GSL don’t have an in-house recruitment function and while it is on the agenda I struggle to find the right team.

However, when I do get this question I am always keen to give advice. Here are my top tips:

  1. Have you actually asked your clients?

It amazes me how few partners do this. When looking to make a senior hire in-house most businesses need someone who is technically strong but also someone who understands their business. In most cases where there is budget to hire most companies would prefer to hire someone they have worked with.

Tip: The best way to raise this is always discreetly. Your client may not be hiring but may get spooked at the thought of you moving from your current firm. Raising it in a social setting or even mentioning you have been head hunted for a couple roles recently which has got you thinking is a nice way to open the conversation. You may even go further and say you know of a partner who is considering a move and gage whether there is an opportunity.
I know suggesting a direct approach is blasphemy to recruiters but it really is the most obvious and successful method.

  1. Who is your head hunter?

I believe GSL are the best at what we do. Few law firms can compete with our track record when it comes to moving partners, launching offices and increasing client turnover.

We are also probably the worst in-house recruiter on the planet. It is not something we really do (with the exceptions of a couple big GC moves in the last decade). The best in-house recruiters have the contacts, mandates and track record to put them at the top of their industry. They also don’t need to chase candidates because they know with the right mandate they simply need to send a quick email out and they will be inundated with CVs. The key question is this: are they picking up the phone/emailing you?

Tip: Find out who the best recruiters are in your space and call all of them. You don’t need to tell them you are moving but you should let them know if the right thing came along you would want to know about it. I am a firm believer in meeting head hunters face to face to build that rapport so try and arrange a meeting. The best thing that will come out of it is you will be on their radar when the right role comes out to market. The worst, you get a free coffee and biscuit and waste 30 minutes of your time.

If anyone wants to know who I rate in the in-house industry feel free to contact me and I will pass on my recommendations.

  1. LinkedIn

This is a really obvious thing but social media is part of our everyday lives and LinkedIn is the most important form of social media for all lawyers but especially partners.

I appreciate most of the partners I work with have little time for social media but your clients do. Many scan through LinkedIn on a weekly basis – what will they see when they come across your profile? And if they are considering hiring at your level does your profile “sell” you enough to make them send you a message? Will recruiters looking for candidates for your dream role be tempted to approach you?

Tips: Firstly, always have a photo (professional as opposed to one with your pets – this isn’t Facebook after all). Secondly, have a strong overview of your career to date including previous firms. Thirdly, make sure your key skills are labelled and flagged up. This should include the most technical aspects like recruiting, managing a budget and other commercial aspects of your role. Finally, put down your personal details and make clear you are always happy to be contacted for views on the market. No one likes to be ignored or told to go away and unfortunately that’s the default fear when making an unsolicited approach. Make it easier on yourself but being welcoming to approaches.


Salaried Partner: Curse or Blessing?


Achieving partnership is a special moment in a lawyer’s career. After years of long nights, difficult deals and office politics you are now almost at the top of your profession. I say “almost” because in many cases salaried partnership has more disadvantages than advantages.

The advantages can’t be denied. It is one more step up the ladder, a new title to help go out and develop further business and an increase in salary.

Not all salaried partners want to be equity. Some are very happy with the arrangement and these are the lucky ones.

Then why is it that so many salaried partners I work with tell me they would only move if they get an equity position?

Being salaried partner usually means having few of the perks of being equity but a lot of the responsibilities. Salaried partners are viewed as employees of the firm and as such do not have as much of a say in the direction of the firm. They are not true owners of the firm and therefore, in most (but not all cases) limited in what they can earn. Also, moving can be problematic should they wish to join one of the major firms as many do not consider non-equity partners and even fewer offer equity to non-equity partners.

As more pressure is put on billing levels for all fee-earners, salaried partners could find themselves caught between being the face of the firm as partner, managing junior lawyers and billing enough hours to justify their position. Given the way firms are run now, and how competitive it is within a law firm, it is also very difficult to find the time to build a practice or even take partner credit for clients “owned” by the more senior partners.

So what is the solution and how does one guarantee the jump up to equity?

  1. Move firm: obviously as a head hunter this would be my default answer. But seriously, if you have a book of business or portable clients which isn’t enough to justify equity at your current firm then simply find a firm which will want you on board and can offer you equity. Last year I moved a salaried partner into the head of ECM at a top 20 law firm and he went in as full equity. He has a better title and took a 40% increase in salary. His firm did not believe his clients would move and so were unwilling to offer him the promotion to equity. My client thought otherwise and was proved right. The only loser in this situation was the former employer who didn’t have faith in their employee of 17 years. Along with my candidate went a £2.2m book of business. A word of advice though – don’t move on a promise of equity unless there is a written guarantee on timeline. No one can predict the future and a change in circumstance can mean you are stuck as a salaried partner at a new firm but without the good will of your previous employer.
  1. Build your business: Work hard at making existing clients of the firm your own. This does not just mean running deals but make yourself indispensable to them. Know their business, develop a personal bond and do not let them think of your firm when instructing – make them think of you personally. Moreover, get out there and network and develop new clients outside of your current firm’s roster. I firmly believe business is built on personal relationships first and cemented by skill set afterwards. Networking at business events, lunching and generally getting your name out there can do wonders. This does not happen overnight and unfortunately, it is not something encouraged by many law firms. However, it is an essential step in making yourself indispensable to your current firm. Once you are in that position, either your firm gives your equity or you can take your pick of whatever competitor you want to join.