Firm one had known for some time that they were losing a partner in a strategically vital practice area and would require a replacement more or less immediately to maintain client loyalty and market position as well as to give the department concerned a much needed boost of energy.
For firm two the need was generated by the sudden departure of two partners from the same department which had left a giant hole in their service capabilities for their panel clients – again clients and reputation were at risk.
Both firms asked us to prepare search proposals and in both cases multiple international offices and internal committees were involved in the making of a decision to go to search. The local managing partners were understandably very clear that focussed, detailed and above all discreet search methodologies were vital and were pleasingly happy that Cogence Search were the right people to perform this service for them.
For firm one the conclusion was that they did not wish to pay a search fee – they retained a contingent service provider on an “exclusive basis” – twelve months on they have produced nothing – literally nothing at all.
For firm two they again concluded that they did not wish to pay a search fee – they had a two pronged approach to the solution; firstly they would see if they could do it themselves and secondly they would put it to the contingent recruitment market. We were invited to work on the role on a contingent basis but declined knowing that it simply would not work - we would not have the time and money required to deliver a good service nor the data and authority that accompanies a search process. Again the firm paid nothing and have received nothing.
Bluntly put both firms received what they had paid for.
Both firms acknowledge that the failure to secure replacements has cost them many hundreds of thousands of pounds – orders of magnitude higher than not only the initial search fee but the entire fee for a successful lateral hire. Both pray in aid the benefit of hindsight albeit accepting that they knew that in declining to commit to search this was a probable outcome. They each acknowledge that reputational harm has been caused to their firms by the failure to restore key service areas to full capacity.
The problem in committing to a search process seems to be all about accountability: If no money is spent and no solution achieved no-one is to blame; if a retainer is paid and no solution reached the person who authorised the expenditure is to blame.
James Nathan – formerly a legal search consultant now an executive coach in the legal sector posted a great blog on this topic – I have received his permission to link to this http://www.jamesnathan.com/why-your-recruitment-strategy-for-hiring... he is right in all respects.
Search confers an obligation on the provider to deliver a solution – the client's need becomes the provider’s problem. The initial fee in a search mitigates the cost/risk of the process but does not cover all costs or generate any profit – the search consultant has an obligation to the client to fill the role and a commercial imperative to do so. The search consultant has a level of data and authority that enormously exceeds that available to a contingent recruiter – he can use this and the time which is purchased by the initial fee to access and move the best candidates in the market.
The contingent recruiter can only access candidates he has swift access to and these will generally be those active in the market – it is seldom the case that candidates actively seeking a new position are the best in the market. The best candidates in the market are generally well looked after where they are and it takes a well-structured approach and well-reasoned argument to get them to the table.
The passage of time, lack of progress and loss of both reputation and clients is, in almost all conceivable circumstances, far more expensive than the cost of a search. Contingent solutions are happenstance – not part of a well-defined strategy – generally don’t generate the best candidates in the market and tend to come with an equivalent fee. Why is paying the same money for a poorer service so popular?
It is not surprising that in lateral legal recruitment as in all areas of professional services you get what you pay for: It remains somewhat surprising that firms with a very clear understanding of their value proposition to their client base and commitment to excellence in their service levels often fail to recognise that the same proposition is true for those that support their growth.
Clearly the above is not true of all firms or we would not exist: equally clearly the issue is not that all of the above is not widely understood. The problem is that a modest early investment in a search process is seen as a great risk and the very real likelihood of lost revenue and clients is a deferred problem for which no one accepts or is expected to accept responsibility.