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Contingent Legal Recruitment v Search Legal Recruitment – Myths dispelled

I read an article recently that had been posted on Linkedin purportedly providing an balanced analysis as to the differences between contingent recruitment (an approach based on direct candidate instruction) and search recruitment (head-hunting). The article itself was drafted by someone engaged in search recruitment and, not unsurprisingly, it extolled the virtues of the latter whilst highlighting perceived flaws in the former.

I am rarely quick to anger and accepting, as I must, that was an intentionally one-sided promotion piece it remains that it infuriated me somewhat. Having taken a couple of days to mull things over (not wishing any subsequent blog to be an all out rant) and having also failed to conceive any better blog idea, here we are. Whilst I may never go toe to toe with the aforementioned posting author, I wanted to at least provide some overview of the reasons as to why the article seemed to be off-point.

There are, of course, both good and bad recruiters across both contingent and search legal recruitment as well as great benefits (and downsides) to both approaches to recruitment. The posting appeared to imply that as Search recruitment required a client to formally instruct a recruiter that by its very nature they must be more informed of what a client is looking for and better able to deliver results. The counter-point as put forward was that contingent recruiters must therefore be ill-informed and reliant upon sending random CVs to a legal recruitment process in the hope that something might stick; basically relying on random chance to place candidates on the basis that they had KPI’s to hit. It was this that rattled me.

Don’t get me wrong, I am quite certain that there are people that operate that way. What the posting failed to say is that it is just as likely that those on the search side are (i) not actually formerly instructed by a client and (ii) reliant on random head-hunting to find candidates. On both the contingent and search legal recruitment fronts that sits at the very worst end of the spectrum and is ultimately what hinders the profession. The posting appeared to imply that all contingent recruitment sat at the this end of the spectrum and in a devilishly one-sided throwaway comment added “who can blame them for sending CVs in that have no relevance or suitability to the role” – I am paraphrasing.

I can only speak for BCL Legal and seek to dispel that idea. Given our longevity in the market and equally our approach and value added aspects, we partner with law firms and operate across the large majority of preferred supplier lists (i.e. we are approved suppliers to law firms). Acquiring that status takes hard work, time and most importantly results. What this means is that we are engaged by law firms. They tell us when they need people and most importantly what they need, want and where their flexibility may lie. We are fundamentally a mouth-piece for that organisation and it is crucial to them that they give us as much information as possible on all aspects of the business – what their plans are, what is the culture of the team and what the role could mean to someone joining. The suggestion that this is approach is less advantageous that a search project is not the case.

The other suggestion was that contingent legal recruitment relied upon consultants having to hit KPI’s, specifically as regards the number of CVs they had to send out each week. Again, I do not sit here suggesting that some businesses don’t operate in that way. I know they do. BCL Legal does not. Our approach is clear. If we send out a CV it is on the very clear basis that we consider the candidate is suitable for the role. That suitability is determined by the information we are given by our client and often on the back of longstanding relationship with that client such that we already know what they will and won’t consider. I would rather send a single CV a week knowing that it is on point than 50 leaving things to random chance.

As a contingent recruiter, we are largely reliant on candidates approaching us whether that be in response to job adverts, already being registered with us or through recommendation from other candidates (and clients). Whilst that may seem a narrower channel than that of someone on the search side (who can identify targets and simply approach them cold) the longevity of our presence and strength of reputation in what we do means that we are, in most cases, already dealing with those that are wanting to look. What it means is that we are in partnership with candidates. They are willing participants (not a product of cold calling) and openly talk to us about what they want. Our job is to marry their desire to that of our clients – that is what gives me the most pleasure and has ensured long-lasting relationships with candidates who not only prove to be a great source of referrals but also have proven to be my clients in the future.

I like balance. I like to be fair. I think it comes through in the way in which I work with candidates. There are great search recruiters and there are great contingent recruiters. They both have a part to play. Those that are good at what they do are able to recognise and respect that. I love what I do and the candidates and clients that I work with have benefitted from the contingent approach so it is nice to try and post a more balanced overview.

If you are a candidate interested in talking through your career options please contact Paul Warburton at BCL Legal for a confidential discussion.

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