Joanna Sztandur on Legal Recruitment

Sandra Bichl: How do international law firms search for Partners?

Joanna Sztandur: Based on my experience, there are two main ways to recruit new Partners: (1) networking and (2) the databases, market knowledge and professionalism of headhunting companies. The markets in CEE are relatively small and people holding such positions know each other from university, the Bar Training, industry-related events or participating in projects “across the table”, that is a situation when while representing their client another lawyer was on the other side. The last method allows us to assess the lawyer’s competence, knowledge and experience most easily. Knowing the competitors is invaluable when a law firm exactly knows who they would like to have among their partners and when – thanks to informal conversations – it is known that the person would be open to discussing moving to another law firm. In particular situations, when a law firm does not want a potential candidate to know they are interested in employing them or when a candidate is expected to transfer with their whole team, the law firms seek the help of professionals, that is headhunters. The second most popular method of seeking candidates is collaboration with recruitment companies. Good headhunters perfectly know the market and are in close relationships with law firms, Partners and Associates. A professional and efficient headhunter not only knows their clients and candidates, but is also able to encourage a candidate to change their job, even if they have not had such plans or intentions.

Sandra Bichl: How long does the recruitment process last? From the decision to employ someone to signing a contract or the candidate actually starting to work?

Joanna Sztandur: From 3 to over 12 months. It depends on many factors: whether a candidate is interested in the change or not, how long the negotiations last, how efficient the law firm that searches for a candidate is in terms of organization, whether the change concerns the whole team and client base, how long the notice period is and the non-compete clauses.

Sandra Bichl: What is the difference between the CV of a Partner and of a Junior Associate? Is there any?

Joanna Sztandur: A Partner CV includes brief information about the companies they have worked for, how long and on what positions, and additionally usually one sentence about their achievements in those firms. Attached to the Partner’s CV is a transaction list that includes clients and cases they have worked on; It can include publications and e.g. other positions they hold outside the current law firm. This additional information can even be the most important element of a Partner’s CV.

A Junior Associate’s CV includes, depending on their work experience, similar information with the difference that the description of their responsibilities is often rather general, as e.g. preparing lease agreements. Because they do not want their CV to seem “poor”, they expand the information writing about all their tasks in detail not mentioning their achievements.

Sandra Bichl: How important is the quality of submitted documents when it comes to Partners?

Joanna Sztandur: It is almost insignificant when the recruitment happens thanks to networking that was described above; under the underlying assumption that the law firm knows the candidate, their achievements and their market value. In such cases, the documents are needed only for the proper documentation of the recruitment process and, possibly, welcoming the potential partner. However, the quality of documents is crucial when the recruitment process is conducted via a headhunter and when e.g. the law firm searches for Partners in another country.

Sandra Bichl: What should potential Partners especially pay attention to during the job interview? 3 tips?

Joanna Sztandur: Firstly, tell the truth, all the truth and only the truth. Secondly, talk about yourself, your competences, qualifications without neither revealing information about your previous law firms nor judging them. Thirdly, do not overestimate the amount and value of your potential portable business.

Sandra Bichl: What are the biggest faux-pas?

Joanna Sztandur: The biggest faux-pas, “There are no women in my team, because they do not contribute any “added value””.

Sandra Bichl: Have you googled candidates before the interview? If yes, what kind of influence did search results have?

Joanna Sztandur: I never googled.

Sandra Bichl: How did you go about reference checks?

Joanna Sztandur: In Great Britain and in the United States, official references are one of the most important elements of the recruitment process. In CEE countries they are not indispensable.

Sandra Bichl: How do law firms evaluate the competences of their high level candidates?

Joanna Sztandur: The most popular method is the interview conducted by lawyers on various positions held individually or in the form of a so-called panel.

Sandra Bichl: How accurate do Senior Associates / Partners assess themselves?

Joanna Sztandur: They often overestimate themselves.

Sandra Bichl: From the HR Director’s perspective, what should Senior Associates / Partners especially pay attention to during the whole process? 3 tips?

Joanna Sztandur: Firstly, always show respect e.g. by keeping deadlines and promises or by being professional. Secondly, do not engage in the process, if you know from the very beginning that you do not plan on changing and just want to learn about the salary levels at the competitors or to have bargaining chips at your current job. Thirdly, treat your potential employer like a client i.e. conduct a detailed due diligence by e.g. verifying their reputation, trying to find out why they have chosen you as a potential candidate, what their organizational culture looks like, and if it is for sure the best change for you and how it will influence your career.

Sandra Bichl: Joanna, thank you very much for your time.