Over the years since I first qualified as a solicitor, I have had experience of using legal recruitment agencies both as a job seeker and as an employer. What’s my experience of using them been like? Completely underwhelming from both sides of the fence. (Actually, it isn’t strictly true that the experience was ‘completely’ underwhelming – I did use one recruiter who did a competent job for me as a young solicitor. Perhaps the exception that proves the rule.)
My background is that I am solicitor and have been qualified for almost exactly 31 years. I used recruitment agencies a few times as a young solicitor, when I was trying to move up the legal ladder. Then in 1994, I set up my own Personal Injury solicitors’ practice in North London. From humble beginnings the firm grew and started to take on staff.
Our first staff member, an experienced secretary, came to us via an ad in the local paper. Lo and behold we received lots of strange letters from people who were wholly unsuitable and yes, we had recruitment agencies offering their services. We didn’t have the finances to pay an agency even if we had wanted to. I seem to recall that they even sent CVs to us unsolicited. It didn’t matter because we found what we thought was the right person, from amongst the few reasonable candidates that did contact us. Anne proved to be excellent and stayed with us for quite a few years.
The firm grew and we ended up with around fifty staff split between offices in London and our home city of Manchester. By that stage every time we took on a member of staff we were besieged by calls, letters and CVs from recruitment agencies. They still came at us even when we placed ads that had the totally ineffectual words, ‘No Agencies,’ at the end of them. Whether it was a secretarial, admin, paralegal or a solicitor vacancy we were trying to fill, we were besieged by agencies and yes, we did start to use them in some instances.
Were all of the candidates we took on from agencies a disaster? No, but still the memory is of most recruitment agencies not doing ‘what it says on the tin.’
We sold the practice as a thriving concern in 2003. I had some health concerns at the time which contributed to the decision.
After fully recovering from illness and then taking a post graduate qualification in Sports Law, I started to apply for various roles in the mid-2000s. I recall applying for quite a high-profile legal position at the FA. That was through an agency. I was fairly quickly called by the agent who was absolutely gushing about my CV and application and I was just waiting to agree terms when she informed me that there was one thing missing from the skillset required. I had no previous experience of working in a regulatory position in sport and that was a requirement. My response was that there was no mention in the agency’ s advert about the requirement for ‘previous experience in a regulatory role’ and that I fulfilled all the others. ‘Ah, yes,’ came the reply. ‘We forgot to put that in the ad.’
After that, whilst spending a few years doing consultancy work, I would occasionally see jobs advertised that quite appealed to me. That was when I really saw how low the standards of the recruitment business seemed to have dropped. I would send in CVs and not even get an acknowledgement. Not even when I followed up multiple times. These were for quite senior roles. That shouldn’t matter anyway. I believe that everyone who applies for any role, should receive the courtesy of an acknowledgment, even if it is a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ response.
Almost worse, was to have contact from the recruitment agent to say that I seemed like a suitable candidate and that my CV had been put to the recruiter with a view to arranging an interview. No response. Then there were the cases where I would be told that the ‘employer would like to see you for interview and we will let you know a date in due course’. Nothing, not even when followed up by me.
My last employed job was one I sourced off my own bat. I worked happily for four years for a legal costs company. I wrote to them. They asked me to come for interview. They offered me the position, I negotiated terms with them and worked for them until setting up my own legal marketing business.
What is my impression of the legal recruitment business, having had experience of the industry from both an employer’s point of view and as someone using recruitment agencies to try and find a job in the profession?
From the position of an employer:
- I often found their technical knowledge seriously lacking. I got the impression that they knew very little about the profession and the particular vagaries of what a senior partner of a firm of solicitors was looking for in a candidate. Too often the feeling was that they would adopt the same approach to trying to find a good candidate for you whether you were a company that sold fish, wellington boots or legal services. This was from companies that were supposed to be specialists in legal recruitment.
- Agents who displayed any lack of knowledge about law and the profession would frequently cover this up by talking errant nonsense. According to those lawyers I have spoken to over the last few years this has got worse, not better, and this increasingly now comes with a fair dollop of arrogance thrown in. The recruitment industry is ultra-competitive and the turnover of agents at recruitment agencies is high. To avoid seeming to have any weaknesses and actually asking if they don’t understand a requirement of the recruiter, too often, the response is to talk nonsense.
- One thing that infuriated me so much, was that I would spend time telling a recruiter in detail the specific requirements for a role, only to find that I had CVs thrown at me non-stop. Most of the CVs I received were for wholly unsuitable candidates. ‘I want someone with at least 3 years’ PQE’, only to find a bundle of newly qualified applicants’ CVs hurled at me. ‘They must have experience of running a caseload of medical negligence files’, only to be sent CVs of RTA lawyers and so on. That to me is poor practice and smacks of both a lack of knowledge and laziness. Too many recruitment agencies from my own experience and to this day, from talking to other owners of law practices, just want to get your position filled as quickly as possible. They seem to have a pool of candidates that they routinely push to would-be employers, added to perhaps by connecting to a few more people on LinkedIn. How often have you accepted a recruitment agents connection request only to receive an almost instantaneous question asking whether you have any vacancies that you want to fill?
- Being pushy, just as some estate agents can be. ‘I’ll come back to you when I’ve any news/made a decision.’ They’re on the phone the next day. Repeat, multiple times during the following week.
- Cost. I think that this is what above all else has always made lawyers wary of using recruitment agencies to find new employees. Whether it be a fixed fee or a percentage-based fee, employers are often left feeling that they are being charged a lot for the actual service that they receive from the agency.
From the employees’ point of view;
- Communication (1). Almost universally I have found that their communication is terrible. Call me old fashioned but I have, over a span of many years, spent hours ensuring that if I am applying for a job through a recruiter, I ensure my CV is bang up to date and emphasises the skills and experience that I have that is relevant to the position for which I am applying. I will always produce a carefully drafted covering letter. On sending both, the number of times that I have not had even an acknowledgement is staggering. I know that recruiters will argue that they get so many applications that they don’t have time to acknowledge them all. I think that is nonsense. It should not be beyond the wit of professional recruitment agencies to have a system in place to acknowledge every application. If it is obvious that the applicant is not suited, then at least have the courtesy to tell them that.
- Communication (2). If they do have some interest in you for a position, they will of course communicate. ‘Your details have been passed to the employer for them to consider.’ Weeks later nothing and despite contacting them again and again, nothing.
- Communication (3). On one occasion, I was told that the company wanted to interview me. They asked for suitable dates, which I gave them. When nothing had been heard from the agency for a month, I contacted them and at least got a response. ‘They have had some internal reorganisation within the company which has delayed matters but they will be in touch soon.’ Why couldn’t they have told me that without my having to chase them? Nothing further. When I chased again, they were still waiting to hear back. Nothing – ever again.
- Feedback. Having made points 1-3 above it will come as no surprise that over the years that the amount of feedback that I have had from agencies when I have not been successful with an application has been virtually nil. The rather strange feedback in connection with the position with the FA, was one of the few, if not only exception, that I can recall.
- When I have been successful in gaining a position through an agency, I have always asked if they can negotiate with the employer, to see if they could increase the salary offer. The agents have said that they will, but nothing has ever happened. On one occasion when I did get a job via an agency and this happened, I managed to negotiate an increase very quickly upon the first contact that I had with the employer, post interview. That only reinforced my view that agents just want to fill positions without going that extra mile for the candidate.
- I have heard it said that in some instances recruitment agents will post jobs online for vacancies that don’t actually exist. I have no personal experience of that happening to me, but there is some evidence online that this does happen. Presumably the reasoning behind this, is to acquire a bank of CVs. If it does happen and for that reason, then that is appalling practice.
There are two further points to consider that affect both employers and employees.
1. The regulation of recruitment agencies. There is no requirement for a recruitment agency to be the member of a regulatory body. A body known as the Recruitment and Regulatory Confederation ‘provides recruitment businesses with a wide range of training, legal, business and accreditation services.’ If agencies join up with the REC they do agree to conform to certain standards, but there is no legislative element to the body. The ethos of the organisation seems to be that potential recruiters and jobseekers would be advised to check whether an agency that they intend using is a member of the body. There is some element of regulation provided by some government employment legislation but the extent of that is fairly limited.
- A thorny issue that often arises and affects both the employee and the employer, is when the employee wants to leave one firm and join another but has a long notice period, commonly 3 months in the legal profession, but sometimes more. This is an issue not only for the employee and also the would-be employer but also the employer from whom the employee wants to take his or her leave. A long notice period may even put off the would-be employer from taking the candidate on, despite that person being suitable in every other aspect. For the current employer, if an employee hands in his or her notice and has to work a long notice period, the employer has a probably less than an interested employee on the books for a number of months. The employer may feel that they have to restrict the type of work that the employee does in their remaining time with the firm. Even if the employee has restrictive covenants about taking clients with them to the new firm or about approaching existing clients, with a view to persuading them to send business to the employee when he or she joins the new employer, it leaves an unenviable situation of mistrust whilst the employee works his or her notice.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were recruitment agencies that were properly regulated by a respected and effective governing body, that offered a way round the issue of long notice periods, disgruntled employees having to work those notices in full; and for employers who have to employ someone for a period who they no longer feel is part of their team and would-be employers who have to wait for their new employee or pass them over because they cannot afford to wait?
Wouldn’t it be equally great if there were specialist recruitment agencies who not only understood the legal profession inside out and knew from personal experience what both employers and employees want from a legal recruitment company? In addition, one that fully explores the needs and expectations of both would-be employer and would-be employee (and understands the concerns of the company from whom the employee is looking to part company with)?
Thankfully there is a solution to all the issues that have been raised in this article. Step forward Truth Recruit, the first legal recruitment agency that is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Truth Recruit was the invention of Andrew Gray, who is a solicitor and director with Truth Legal solicitors in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Andrew identified all of the problems with existing legal recruitment agencies set out in this article and set up Truth Recruit to offer a solution. He asked me to spearhead Truth Recruit. Truth Recruit is a trading arm of Truth Legal. That means that it comes under the authority of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and therefore provides both its employer and employee clients with the same protection that any client of Truth Legal solicitors receives. In its simplest form, this means that the problem with communication that so often blights relationships with other legal recruitment agencies, shouldn’t happen with Truth Recruit. Not only is that because of the ethos of Truth Recruit, which is to keep their clients fully in the picture as to what is happening throughout their relationship with their clients, but it is also a regulatory requirement. If Truth Recruit were to fall down on those standards, then their clients have a regulatory body to whom they could complain and seek redress. That means maintaining those standards after they have found the right position for their employee clients because we will act for you for life, by virtue of their Lawyer for Life offering!
The agents at Truth Recruit, like me, are solicitors not agents! They understand the legal profession. They have also been through the recruitment process from both sides, themselves. They are professionals and by using them as your legal recruitment agents, you will be ensuring that your recruitment needs are dealt with by solicitors who understand precisely what your requirements are and will work professionally and skilfully to obtain the best clients for their employer contacts and the best employer for their would-be employee clients, including going that extra mile to obtain the best terms of employment possible.
What about that position of leaving one employer and joining another? Truth Recruit are able to use their expertise as employment lawyers to negotiate the best exit terms possible to the benefit of the employee, the employer and the would-be employer. This is by the use of something called a Settlement Agreement.
So, if you are an employer looking to recruit or even, just at the moment, be notified of exceptional candidates, why not get in touch with Truth Recruit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Truth Recruit’s recruitment fees for law firms are 15% which is less than the usual 20-30%, charged as standard, by most legal recruitment agencies.
If you are an employee looking for your next position, then simply send Truth Recruit your CV to email@example.com
Truth Recruit’s solicitor recruitment service is free to any solicitor looking for a new job at a law firm.
If you want to find out more about how Truth Recruit can help you, then call for an obligation free chat on 01423 788 538.