Shakeup in the legal recruiting market

Changes are afoot at several legal recruitment firms as Marsden regroups after its stint with DLA Piper and ZSA loses three senior consultants.

Recently, three recruiters from ZSA — each with between nine and 12 years experience left the organization — Emily Lee, Rebecca Toth, and Salima Alibhai. Co-founder Warren Bongard wouldn’t comment on why the women left but says the organization is already back up to full staffing.

Alibhai’s LinkedIn profile indicates: “Salima has resigned from her position as Client Partner at ZSA Legal Recruitment. She will be taking 9 months off to honour her restrictive covenants. Her plans are to re-enter the world of legal recruitment in December of 2015.”

Lee’s profile has a similar message: “After more than 11 years with ZSA, it was time to move on. Thank you to everyone I worked with over the years. I will be taking a hiatus from legal recruitment while honouring the restrictive covenants in my employment contract. Looking forward to this valuable time off and to the next chapter in my career!”

ZSA has 23 recruiters nationally and the three who left have been replaced — Lana Driscoll, formerly of Marsden Legal Search & Recruitment and Caitlyn Waring, a former associate from Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, have joined ZSA. A third person will be added in the coming weeks.

“I’m excited and energized about the change,” says Bongard. “We’re no less in terms of personnel. There is no question the legal industry has taken a hit in the last few years. The good news for recruiters is whenever there is a bad thing happening there is opportunity. We had one of our better years in 2014 and continue to be busy.”

Bongard says law firms are trying to add more revenue to the top line and that often means recruitment. Firms are also re-tooling to focus on what they are good at to make the most profit. ZSA’s LexLocom legal process outsourcing business has also been busy, he says.

Marsden, which was rumoured to have shut its doors, is still up and running but down to one senior consultant — Steven Rapkin, who will be managing things in Toronto. Rapkin says Marsden is still offering recruitment services.

“As the saying goes, the reports of our death are greatly exaggerated,” Rapkin told Legal Feeds.

Before joining Marsden four years ago, Rapkin was an associate and partner at McCarthy Tétrault LLP.

Last summer Marsden lost two people — one left the country and one moved out West. More recently, Carolyn Berger left to start her own company.

“The office got smaller last summer, to begin with and we moved from 141 Adelaide into the Exchange Tower where we are now,” says Rapkin.

Marsden had been working with DLA Piper for two years on establishing its Canadian beachhead. Its combination with Vancouver-based Davis LLP was announced last week. DLA had invited three recruiters to New York to pitch on whether they should greenfield or look for a merger. Marsden won that mandate, introducing DLA’s team to firms and individual lawyers so they had a chance to get a better understanding of the Canadian market.

That work ended toward the end of January. As a result, two other consultants have now departed, including Berger, who is now setting up her own shop under the name Berger Legal Search. She declined comment at this time.

Marsden is a global operation with offices in Australia and London. The company’s chief administrator, Dharshiniey Shan, is also based in Toronto.

“I am staying on as the senior consultant here. Because Marsden is global it’s never been the same model as ZSA or the Heller Group or the others because a lot of what we do is source Canadian lawyers to go abroad,” says Rapkin. “For example, we’re working on a big mandate for White & Case to get Canadian lawyers to move to London and New York. We continue to have those kinds of mandates so for that reason Canada remains relevant.”

Rapkin will also assist Canadian lawyers who have been abroad and want to come back to Bay Street.

“I will continue to work the Bay Street market but it would be wrong to say I’m servicing the Canadian market because I’m on the ground here,” he says.

Rapkin admits business has been affected by the changing demands on law firms.

“If you speak to the business law sections of any of the large firms, they’re not that busy — there is still not a lot of M&A on the ground. It’s so different from the 20 years I was in a firm and partners were billing 1,500, 1,800, 2,000 hours. Now most firms are happy if their partners are billing 1,200,” says Rapkin.

He says of the four years he’s been in recruiting he thought 2014 was the most difficult even though it’s the furthest away from the recession of 2008.

Adam Lepofsky, of RainMaker Group, says his company is doing well but admits it has been tough times for law firms.

“The law firms say they are busy but there’s not been predictability in five years in any business on Bay Street. There’s not a lot of M&A. Recruitment will go the same way because we are a luxury item. People will pay for staffing agencies, search firms when they can get something they can’t get themselves and are prepared to pay a premium,” says Lepofsky.

“You have to deliver something better than what they could get on their own or provide some other value.”

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