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attract in house counsel candidatesThe ultimate goal of every search is to land the very best talent who will bring a substantial return on investment by excelling at the company for many years to come.  People often ask how our firm identifies the talent that we do, since their own efforts prove to be ineffective.  The reality is that the best candidates are not actively looking for something new.  Every industry has rising talent and every company wants that talent for their own team, which makes obtaining these individuals a unique and challenging endeavor. They rarely spend any time on the job market!   

We call these passive candidates, and they often stand out above the rest—making the most ideal hire, if you can nab them. Just because they’re not putting out resumes, however, doesn’t mean they’re off limits. Most lawyers are open to investigating new opportunities provided two things:

  1. The opportunity has a chance of making a positive impact on their career or career satisfaction
  2. The discussion is approached correctly.  

To reach your most desired prospects, check out these tips on how to find and court in-house counsel candidates who aren’t looking.

Nail The Initial Conversation

Once you’ve identified prospects, the most important step in courting passive candidates is the initial conversation. 

Don’t lead off with a specific job description. Instead, ask if they would be willing to have a brief chat about a potential opportunity. The invitation should be compelling but not pushy. Your pitch about the opportunity should be comprised of compelling statements about the company, management team and the impact that the position will have on the organization.  The old expression “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” really comes into play here.

Build A Relationship

Building rapport with the prospect is critical. The initial conversation should not be all about your opportunity.  You need to gain an understanding about the prospect’s skills, interests, career goals and their overall satisfaction with their current situation.  Uncovering personal and career aspirations/motivations, pain points and even personality characteristics are key to engaging in further conversations, and ultimately attracting this person to your company.

Focus on All Benefits (Not Just Compensation)

The order in which you deliver information about the opportunity has everything to do with how well it will be received. For your offer to be of value, it must improve upon an aspect of the passive candidate’s career while providing comparative or greater growth potential than their current position. Don’t lead with compensation, as you don’t want this single element (though important) to be the defining factor. Instead, begin by discussing advantages like providing counsel to the executive team, facing new challenges and being responsible for substantial decisions. Lastly, discuss benefits, bonuses, compensation and other potential perks. While it is common to hold off on compensation discussions until a second conversation or encounter, it is something that must come to the surface before progressing too far.  If the prospect’s expectations are not in line with your budget, there is no sense investing too much time.

By this time, your passive candidate will hopefully see potential beyond a fiscal number.

Be Willing to Pay

When the time comes to put money on the table, be willing to pay what the candidate is worth. There can be a wide disparity in compensation between legal professionals having the exact same number of years of experience.  Parameters such as credentials, large law training, additional in-house experience and leadership qualities of the individual, can play significant factors in compensation disparity. Conduct industry researchto determine the average salary of in-house counsel with your candidate’s skill-set, experience and potential. Legal recruiters and recruiting firms can also be an excellent ally for this type of research.  

Don’t be afraid to ask the candidate directly what they currently make and what their salary goals are. Consider their current benefits and be open to offering a signing bonus, relocation package (if applicable) or other incentives to combat those they will be negating to join your team.  Also, please be aware of unvested Long Term Incentive (LTI) awards which could act as “Golden Handcuffs” preventing the candidate from ultimately making a move.

Consider Working with an Legal Recruiting Firm

If you’re relying only on career boards to source candidates, you’ll overlook passive candidates completely. You need to cast a wide net, and having someone who’s familiar with the territory to help you navigate the environment can be the difference between hiring a B player and a rockstar. 

Working with a recruiting firm that specializes in in-house counsel recruiting is one of the best ways to identify and court passive candidates. The best legal recruiters are long-term observers of industry talent, so they have a rapport with some of the top candidates and know how to approach them and ensure they consider your opportunity.  

For over 25 years, BarkerGilmore has fine-tuned its approach to legal recruiting. We tap into well-established networks to uncover the in-house counsel candidates that won’t surface in any job posting becausethey’re already top performers at their existing organizations.  Find out what makes our approach unique.

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Topics: Recruiting   |   Recruiting General Counsel


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