How to choose the right legal executive search partner to help manage your career

Written by Miriam Leung & Ciaran Foy

It is our finding that most lawyers will not have put much thought into choosing a recruiter to consult with until they get find themselves actively seeking a new legal role. By this point, time may be of the essence and the tendency is to go for a visible, well-known brand with a plethora of jobs advertised at that given time. The reality is, finding the right recruiter for you may be more challenging.  We feel that it is important to be discerning in your search and identify a recruiter who can not only assist you in your immediate search but also provide support, guidance and advice during your long and hopefully successful legal career be that in private practice or within an in-house capacity.   

The legal market in any given region can feel inordinately small and many of the key players within your practice area will indeed be known to you.  For this reason, we feel that confidentiality is a fundamental tenet of any recruiter/ candidate relationship.  Any unwanted disclosure could be embarrassing and potentially very prejudicial to your current role.  Whilst it is reasonable to impose high ethical standards on your recruiter, it is important to bear in mind that they operate within a business role and it is necessary to respect your recruiter’s time.  We are of the view that a recruiter/ candidate relationship will be most effective if you are responsive to questions, provide an honest indication of your interest levels on any roles available and update your recruiter of any changes in your position as the recruitment process develops (which can invariably happen).  

We are proud to say that as an established executive search firm, almost all our business at Aquis Search comes from referrals within our extensive networks. We feel this is very telling on how highly regarded we are within the legal market place in which we operate.   Even so, there is no room for complacency in your selection of a good recruiter and it is essential to conduct your due diligence.  This will typically involve verifying past performance and where appropriate, seeking out references.   We have often found that during our initial conversations with lawyers, they are very rigid about their expectations.  Often these expectations are well-founded but they can, on occasion, be unrealistic or out of sync with current market conditions.  It is our role as recruiters and market place experts to diplomatically challenge these expectations, drill down on the real drivers underpinning any intention to move and advise accordingly. 

The personality of your recruiter is paramount and whilst you want to partner with an individual with sufficient credibility and gravitas to represent you, you must like and respect their work, and feel comfortable with them. There are many basic people skills successful recruiters possess including the ability to listen to your requirements and concerns at every step of the process, and it is all made easier if they are approachable and willing to be open and consultative at every juncture. Many recruiters will spend most of the time during your consultation asking pertinent questions.  It is undoubtedly within the recruiter’s interests to know as much as possible so they can tailor their recommendations in line with this.  Any credible recruiter will welcome all questions so feel free to probe; ask questions about the recruiter’s understanding of the practice area in which you specialise, test their market knowledge around it and drill down on their track record.  It is sensible to follow up with some online research to establish their digital reputation and consider how well this will be received by the firms/ in-house institutions you are targeting.  

Probably the most frequent question we are asked by candidates when we first start working with them is how do we get paid? It is true that whether we are working on a contingent or a retained basis, it is the client that ultimately pays our fee.   The recruitment process is however defunct without good candidates and we strive to equally balance the needs and interest of our clients and candidates alike.  A good recruiter would provide timely and constructive feedback from clients, regardless of whether your applications have been successful or not, and is someone who can also provide overall market intelligence, demonstrating a high level of knowledge and credibility. He/she is someone who genuinely cares about everyone in the process and is able to analyse your market options before you make any critical decisions to target the right firm. 

Recruitment firms come in a whole myriad of different guises ranging from one-person set-ups to listed global powerhouses, and everything in between. Search methodologies and access to research resources will be vastly different between firms, so we always advise taking the time to understand how the recruitment process works, and how a recruiter will be using their network and support to help you. Aquis Search is a mid-sized firm with a phenomenal reputation within the markets we serve and we boast substantial in-house research and resources to support multi-regional networks.  For many of the lawyers we work with, this is the most auspicious platform as it allows our consultants to understand movements and trends amongst law firms across our respective markets 

Finally – location, location, location. It is always better to meet your search partner face-to-face so logistics do come into play. It may not always be possible if you are looking to make an international move, but technology can help. The best partnerships will involve frequent interaction over the course of your career, whether you are actively looking for a new role or passively interested in updates within the legal market. 

Please contact Miriam Leung or Ciaran Foy at or respectively. You may also connect with Miriam via LinkedIn or Ciaran via LinkedIn to have a confidential discussion on the opportunities in the legal sector.