Needle in a haystack: we welcome the challenging search

Dan Clark, a reporter from American Lawyer Media, works the in-house counsel beat for Corporate Counsel and he reaches out to me and other specialists in this space from time to time.

Dan recently posed an interesting question, essentially: “Do certain industries present particularly difficult recruiting challenges?” The conventional wisdom likely holds that recruiting for growing information technology companies is easy, as compared perhaps to smoke stack industries or socially unpopular sectors such as tobacco.

In my experience, however, in-house lawyers are fairly agnostic on industry and tend to focus on the nature of the opportunity. See Cate Flahardy’s general counsel profile of Verona Dorch for an excellent example. I rarely find industry to be a stumbling block when working on a search. In fact, here in the Midwest where I am based, a solid engine manufacturer such as Cummins, or a healthy medical products company like Baxter, have made for much more successful placements when compared to some sexy names like Groupon. I am defining success by the job satisfaction and longevity of lawyers we have placed.

To be clear, I love getting searches from fast growth companies and newer industries. As examples, Heidi Groulx is enjoying success as the lead in-house attorney for Maven Wave, and we recently placed Julia Pilliod into an exciting, newly created assistant general counsel position with Ubiquiti Networks.

As a search firm, we are completely industry agnostic. What I told Dan is that, from a recruiter’s standpoint, the most challenging searches are what I call the “needle in haystack” orders. I gave as an example the occasional assignment from Principal Financial Group, a wonderful company with outstanding in-house lawyers. But since PFG is based in Des Moines, Iowa, local candidates are in short supply when the need is subject matter specific, such as ’40 Act mutual fund expertise. That’s a geographic needle in haystack example.

But it can be supply/demand related as well. For example, there is a limited pool of experienced FDA lawyers with in-house experience. If a senior counsel with FDA expertise at Merck, for example, gets a call from a recruiter with an opportunity at Abbott or Pfizer, it will take a bigger title and large pay bump to garner attention.

We enjoy needle in haystack searches, where specific expertise is not easy to land. Do we hit the mark 100% of the time? No. Any recruiter with 20 years of experience who brags about a perfect track record is simply lying. But you won’t find another niche search firm with greater enthusiasm and expertise when it comes to hard-to-fill openings. We usually do indeed successfully thread the needle!