Skip to main content

Recruiting is Marketing with a different audience.

Recruiting is important regardless of the condition of the economy.  When business is booming, firms need to hire lawyers fast to take advantage of the opportunity (remember 2021-22?). In slow or declining economies where there’s less legal work, firms must attract top laterals with portable business, to keep their people busy.

If you think of it, recruiting is just marketing―with a different target audience.

Firms can achieve far better lateral-hiring results using strategic and creative marketing tools than by seeking one-off hires from recruiters. And for the cost of just a couple headhunter fees, you can achieve both (1) better results and (2) long-lasting reputational benefits.  More on that in a minute.

When legal business was booming in 2021-22, law firms were growing as fast as they could find the talent to bang out the work. In Q4 2021, I spoke with many law firm leaders who despaired of January 2022, anticipating the departures of hordes of lawyers soon after they received their hefty year-end bonuses. How were they going to replace them quickly enough?

I talked to a senior partner at a national law firm who was frustrated that they were turning down millions of dollars in quality legal work because they didn’t have the available bodies, and they couldn’t pile more hours, or more stress, onto their existing associates―fearing that they’d quit, knowing that they could promptly get hired by an equally desperate competitor down the street.

Why don’t Marketing and Recruiting talk?

What’s irked me for decades is how many firms see recruiting and marketing as fundamentally different activities. Often, the Recruiting and Marketing people aren’t integrated; they’re territorial, almost adversarial. Rarely do they deeply understand the value of blending their skill sets and working together. That’s a missed opportunity.

I’ve helped legal-recruiting firms polish up their own brands, desperate to attract more lawyers who they could persuade to relocate to a new firm with the promise of more money, quality of life, better work, different work, work-from-home (or … better coffee―they don’t care why, they just need to shuffle bodies around). They’re all playing “law firm musical chairs,” filling their open contracts by shoving willing lawyers one chair/firm to the left, and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in recruiting fees per seat.

Half of your laterals won’t last 5 years.

Typical recruiting efforts disproportionately reward the disloyal job-hoppers who are willing to pack up every 3-5 years―and will probably be gone again in a few years.

You don’t want them.

Large firms willingly pay millions of dollars per year to headhunters to attract fresh laterals, half of whom won’t last 5 years.

Seek like-minded laterals―don’t “buy from inventory.”

If the firms had invested that same money in building their brand within that lateral audience, firms could attract the most compatible lawyers directly, without paying a hefty fee. They’ll call YOU.

If you have something unique or valuable to offer―if you’re indeed a better option for some type or category of lawyer, or can create a better story to tell―then you need to proclaim that story. We knew that by showing the firm’s singular culture, the professionals who saw themselves in that message would seek us out.

Simultaneously, it helps screen out those who aren’t a good personality fit for the firm.  Hiring people who don’t complement what you offer build no loyalty and become short-timers. Turnover is costly, disruptive, and inefficient. And it’s more likely if you’re only considering whoever your recruiter happens to have available “for sale.”

The Levenfeld Pearlstein story.

In 2005, led by Bryan Schwartz, one of the profession’s most dynamic chairmen, 60-lawyer Levenfeld felt that they offered a more creative and dynamic firm culture. They sought a specific type of person who’d excel under that platform, lawyers who felt stifled at their current firms―metaphorically like sheep, robots, or “anonymous cogs in a machine.”  They knew talented people were out there who longed for an environment where they could look forward to coming to work every day.

We focused their message, designed bold advertisements for the local Chicago legal community, supported it with aggressive public relations, and quickly achieved their dramatic growth goals.

Today, 15+ years later, Levenfeld’s reputation as an innovative firm with a strong, positive culture, endures. It’s still supporting their lateral hiring. That is what you should be striving to build.

The entire initiative cost less than one headhunter fee.

The dissatisfaction rate among lawyers is distressingly high; they’re looking for more, or better, or different. And if you showed them that you offer the thing they’ve been looking for and make yourself available to them, they’ll call you. 

But so few firms understand why, or how, to play that game.

Next week: Part 2, with some COVID-era examples.


Need to enhance your OWN Marketing and Recruiting? Call Ross now! Watch our fun video here.

Contact Ross Fishman directly for more information at +1.847.921.7677 (call or text) or

For more info, download a free copy of the definitive law firm branding book, “We’re Smart. We’re Old. And We’re the Best at Everything. The World’s First No-BS Guide to Legal Marketing and Branding” available at Amazon here.