Can Your Network Be A Recruiting Strategy?

If a member of your legal team has ever resigned at the worst possible moment, the memory of the stress on you and your department likely was present for a long time.

You can avoid, or at least alleviate, that strain by making recruitment an ongoing component of your legal leadership plan. Someone’s role in an organization becomes the most important role when he or she resigns. The disruption in work flow inside and outside the legal department can have far-reaching consequences for which you, as general counsel, will be held accountable. Loss of top talent keeps general counsel up at night.

A useful step in creating an ongoing framework is to integrate your networking process with the recruitment process so you are better prepared if an unexpected resignation occurs. Such a system could reduce your downtime and widen the pipeline of potential candidates.

Informational interviews, networking meetings, informal or formal lunches, or any other event that serves as a networking opportunity may be a resource for meeting and hearing about potential hires. You can’t be in all places all the time, and your time resources are limited. Think about where you will have the greatest opportunity to meet potential hires: through peers, professional associations, relationships with trusted search partners, industry events and similar routes. (These may or may not be the same places, organizations or networks you might use when looking for an opportunity yourself.)

We have ongoing relationships with general counsel who make it their business to know their peers, the experts in a practice area (in house or in law firms), rising stars and others in and outside the industry. A broad and diverse legal network is especially helpful during the recruiting process.

Those professional contacts are an excellent resource for:

  • benchmarking compensation (See related article: The Insiders Guide to Creating a Hiring-Plan)
  • obtaining referrals
  • benchmarking practice area expertise – to learn who has it and how it is marketed
  • evaluating the lessons learned from other hiring experiences. For example, is the group interview more effective than a slate of interviews? What tracking methodologies are used to gather and organize feedback? What tools are used in the decision-making process? (See related article: Master the Art of the Interview Hire the Right Lawyer)
  • gaining sage advice in general and about legal and business trends and how they might impact your hiring needs today as well as in the future

A network does not guarantee you will be able to produce the candidate you are looking to hire. You can, however, help supplement the number of available professionals, reduce time to hire, benchmark compensation and market availability, and proactively plan for future trends in the legal profession and/or your industry. You are also marketing yourself and your organization. Many articles have been written on the power of personal and company branding, if you are not yet convinced.

General counsel at our client companies often give us names of high-performing attorneys they know personally or by reputation so we may initiate contact to assess their level of interest in the hiring organization and begin the vetting process. This can expedite the recruitment process, lessen discomfort for both parties if one or both choose not to move forward in the employment relationship, protect confidentiality if need be, and allow the general counsel to lead the legal team with minimal disruption. This is a great example of partnering with a search firm.

We frequently see general counsel effectively use their network to benefit a professional or leverage their network to achieve other results. Networking is most effective when both parties benefit, but it may turn out that only one person does at that particular time. As a result, “paying it forward” can be very powerful in the networking process.

Here are some examples of networking by legal professionals:

  • Organizations invite us into the recruiting process to supplement a GC’s or an executive’s network. We have been able to neutralize the politics of the hiring process by providing an objective review, and vetting out candidates who may not meet the position’s requirements and/or have a personal or political connection to the organization. In our 18 years of business, we have found that if you have been a GC long enough, your network may be maxed out.
  • We receive referrals from those who would like to maintain or increase their networking exposure. For example, several senior professionals have declined an opportunity but referred or recommended someone in their department.
  • General counsel tell us that professionals find their positions as a result of working on a board, or speaking on a panel or at a conference.

If meeting with and nurturing your network is part of your legal management strategy, you will be that much further along in your recruitment efforts, and your network can help accelerate the process. If for no other reason, you can brainstorm, receive feedback, solicit counsel and benchmark general compensation and other parameters. It is also fruitful to have a professional colleague ground your experiences by sharing similar points of reference.

The good news is that points of entry into the network process can be initiated at any time. No prerequisites are needed. Make a list of professional associations, industry groups, law firm connections and legal alumni groups, and assess your best route based on your hiring objective.