Difficult Searches and Recruiter Motivation

by Jon Lewis

If you’re a law firm or in-house legal department looking for a hard-to-find attorney how can you get a legal recruiter to focus on your search? A traditional contingency fee arrangement may not do the trick.  Recruiters working on straight contingency are understandably reluctant to devote much time to difficult searches unlikely to lead to a placement and a fee.

Two of the more common approaches used by employers in such circumstances are to offer search firms a higher fee percentage or enter into a retained search arrangement with a particular recruiter.  However, both of these approaches have clear shortcomings.  As for the former, offering a fee of say 30% as opposed to the typical 25% obviously increases the employer’s cost if a recruiter succeeds in finding a candidate who is hired.  Perhaps more importantly, a somewhat higher fee may not really be enough of a difference maker to get recruiters motivated.  The fee percentage is only one among a host of factors that recruiters consider when deciding whether to work on a search, along with likelihood of success, the number of other recruiters involved, other searches available etc.  With regard to retained searches, these not only involve an out of pocket expense regardless of whether a candidate is actually found but also effectively lock the employer into a single recruiter who may or may not produce results.

So what’s an employer to do?  I suggest that there may be a better option.  If you have a search which you know will be difficult, consider selecting one recruiter to offer a contingency search with exclusivity for a specified, short period (say two to three weeks).  This approach has several advantages:

  • Recruiters will consider turning quickly to a search if they know they have no competition from other recruiters but only for a brief time.
  • There is no extra cost as compared to a traditional contingency search, and no cost at all unless a candidate is actually found and hired.
  • Employers are not tied long-term to a particular recruiter.  If the selected search firm fails to produce attractive candidates during the exclusivity window the employer is free to turn elsewhere. 

Interestingly, over my many years as a recruiter I have only rarely seen employer’s utilize the approach I am suggesting, but it might be worth considering the next time you have a tough opening to fill.