How to hire in house legal counsel at a fund?

Private equity, hedge funds, boutique banks and other alternative asset managers all want the very best people. If you scan the profiles of individuals employed by the majority of these organisations you will find a pattern in those they hire. Most went to elite universities before attending exclusive institutions in their respective sector before winding up where they are today.  These professionals are the highest paid, the brightest and the most compelling, the top 1% of the market.

How does a fund successfully attract a candidate with that profile? In the legal world it isn’t particularly difficult to find well credentialed candidates interested in a move in house. What is hard is finding not just someone who went to a great law school and worked at the most prestigious firm but finding someone who has the right mix of experience, seniority, personality, who comes in on budget and is interested in your fund at the moment you have an opening. If you do find someone like this the chances are they are going to have other options open to them, how do you differentiate your offering to them?

The default for organisations looking to hire, particularly those who haven’t done so within legal before is to advertise. This might take the form of a specialist legal jobs website or via LinkedIn. Do good candidates respond to adverts? Of course they do, however is an advert alone likely to generate the candidate we just described? It might, but it will almost invariably not provide you a selection of candidates matching your criteria to pick from and may also lead to your hiring manager being hounded by sales people.

Networking; some businesses insist you exhaust your personal contacts before you can go to a specialist search firm. It is true that a lot of the very best candidates come from people in one’s network or friends of friend, in many ways these candidates are known quantities and it eliminates some of the risk associated with any new hire. While a quick email or call to one or two contacts to ask for recommendations isn’t going to affect your day that much, an exhaustive list creation of 3rd degree contacts is going to take a seriously long time and be a major distraction.

If a fund is looking to hire as a result of a shock departure, the way they hire may be different to a more considered hire as part of an organic expansion or new office launch which can be conducted in a slightly more strategic way.

Using a specialist legal headhunter is the most straightforward way of combining networking, cold research and potentially advertising to deliver a slate of top candidates to choose from. Is this expensive? In most cases a retained executive search will come in at 1/3 of a candidate’s annual base salary (and potentially bonus depending on how comp is structured) paid in three instalments. Some providers will charge a lower fee or offer a different or non-retained exclusive structure depending on the particular mandate.

Most funds are not shy about spending money, what they want is value for that money in the form of excellence. If they are not convinced by a recruiter, they will look at other options that look to deliver an appropriate return on investment. By now most people with a LinkedIn account will have seen the meme “if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur” it’s a truism. To hire the best people AND service providers costs money. Recruitment of this kind can be run by generalists and it is possible that some of your employees may make great internal recruiters in addition to their day jobs, however the only way to be confident of securing the right result is going to a specialist.

When selecting which firm to work with consider their knowledge of and network within the market as well as their approach and professionalism. It is easy to get sucked in by big firm branding and slick events but in the end,  you are partnering with an individual to lead your search, make sure you can work with them and you have confidence they can deliver. Any provider you work with needs to be credible when speaking with the types of candidates you want to attract. They will act as defacto extension of your marketing team by delivering a compelling and exciting position to the market to generate interest from the most in demand individuals in the sector, many of whom are non-active job seekers and need effective outreach.


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