Vicky Clark discusses why she switched from a career in law to legal recruitment, what it takes to be a first class recruiter and she dispels some of the myths that surround the profession
Vicky, can you tell us about how your career started and why you established BCL Legal?
I qualified in 2000 and once the novelty of being a trainee solicitor had worn off and as the mountain of cases arrived in my office I realised I didn't enjoy the day to day reality of being a solicitor. Commercial dispute resolution for kitchen companies and the like was not for me. I started to get the Sunday night fear quickly followed by Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night fear so I left Halliwells to go into legal recruitment at Michael Page. Their Manchester office didn't have a legal team back then and I was really excited about the challenge and I put everything I had into it. We worked 8-8 five days a week, regularly longer, to attract a database of candidates and to convince law firms we could fill their roles. I loved it. It was my dream job. Three years later, James, Mark and I formed BCL Legal and as they say, the rest is history.
What makes BCL Legal stand out from other recruitment consultancies?
We aimed to take the best of our former employers and leave the rest behind. Bye bye long hours, discretionary bonuses and getting obliterated every Friday night. We provide the tools; a fantastic training platform and induction and we want people to have a work:life balance. We work hard though. We want to place people in jobs where they are really happy. They tell all their peers and the cycle begins again. Our unique use of data and technology means we can attract candidates better than our competitors and we register over 1,400 job seekers a month. We only like winning and as our values are team work, caring and accountability, we have a very special culture. We've been in the Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work for two years running and we continually want to improve...
What made you choose a career in recruitment?
My parents ran their own business and it's as close to being an entrepreneur, without risking your own money, that I think you can get. It's a job you can build up and have control of from your very first day. You don't need to be told what to do once you know what you're doing. I like creating business and here you can do it. I like business development but with all the technology we've invested in and work we’ve done over the last five years you will rarely cold call here. We are everyone's biggest supplier of people, outside London.
What do you most enjoy about it?
The reward for the effort. I'm not money motivated at all. I like a client saying I've done a good job for them and a thank you card from a placed candidate will go up on my wall of fame. We are literally changing lives and if we don't pay attention it can go wrong. What I enjoy most now though is the team we work with. When I say they are fantastic, it's an understatement. I organise the events and we have a great time together. We go all over the country and sometimes overseas. We like each other and I am excited to see everyone after the weekend. We've seen people develop and grow, three of our directors started with us in their early 20s, left us to try out other places and came back five years ago. They have so much experience in recruitment they inspire the new people coming through.
Many of BCL Legal's team are qualified lawyers and have worked in private practice; why is that?
Over 50% of us have been in practice. I like to keep the balance at about this level because having people from varied backgrounds is important as they each bring something different to the party. Very good lawyers can prioritise, organise their days, build rapport and are used to being in a position of trust. They understand the job and why people might be looking for a new one. Ultimately it comes down to the person's character. We look for the right attitude and that spark of something extraordinary. We also benchmark people against our values: we look for positive people who are team players who are prepared to make themselves accountable.
What are the main reasons that make people switch?
Here you get the full picture, you take a job brief, you interview solicitors to find out what they want and you put the two together. Sounds easy right? Well it's not and not every lawyer is a success. Far from it. It's challenging, it's exciting, it's your own business, you get out what you put in. It's not the same as being a solicitor. I felt being in practice was quite lonely. Every day here is different and someone is always having a laugh – usually at themselves. You can foster really great relationships. I've been to many weddings and formed fantastic friendships with many candidates and clients.
What words of advice would you have for lawyers who might be looking at recruitment as a potential career?
I was with a fab friend last week who I placed in a job 10 years ago. She is now in a very senior role and she told me that many lawyers are scared of recruitment which shocked me. They think it's long hours, cold calling and hard graft. So, we work 9-6 and finish earlier on Fridays. Over 25% of us work four days a week, 15% of us work remotely more than we do in the office and everyone has flexibility where they need it. It has to be a win for the consultant and a win for the business. It's very transparent. Earning potential is totally uncapped and down to your own effort and performance. If you’re not fully satisfied in your role as a lawyer, don’t wait another year/ month/ week. Come and chat with us now.
What makes a good legal recruiter?
Character and attitude. If you like people and have emotional intelligence that's a good start. There are a lot of factors at play and a lot of things going on all at the same time and you need to be able to prioritise. You need to think on your feet and be agile. Half the battle is knowing what to do when. You need to be confident and a team player. You need to care what happens to the team. It also helps if you're IT savvy and can pick up a process quickly. Creativity for writing job specifications and blogs is also helpful and will save you time. If you want to be rewarded for the success of your business you can earn very well. The earning potential is greater than being a solicitor.
Recruitment is perceived as a tough industry but what's the reality?
It's tough in that we have competitors and so there are times when you need to move very quickly. We have targets and goals. We also have administration like any other business but each team has their own assistant who does as much as that for you as possible so you can make best use of your time.
We are a high performing business but we give everyone the tools and the training to be excellent at their job. If you like to achieve your best you would thrive here. We focus on the quality of the conversations you have with clients and candidates. We know legal agencies on our doorstep that set targets based on the time you spend on the phone each day. We think that's crazy. We set goals around quality and accountability.
What opportunities do you have for lawyers thinking of making the switch now?
We have roles for junior as well as more experienced lawyers in Manchester, Birmingham and London to become recruitment consultants. We've trained paralegals, legal executives as well as solicitors into excellent recruiters. If you're interested in hearing more about life at BCL, please contact me. I'd love to hear from you.