Attorney at Law Magazine writer Susan Cushing spoke with Joel Shulman who recently joined the international law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP as the legal recruiting manager. Formerly a practicing attorney, we wanted to chat with him about his work in the recruitment arm of the legal profession.
AALM: What are your goals in this new position?
JS: My primary goal is fairly simple – to ensure that I am serving my client (the firm) in the best way possible. Accomplishing this goal requires, among other things, effective communication with hiring partners, national and local practice group chairs, office managing partners, office administrators, our talent development team and others regarding the status of open positions and candidates; effective communication with search firms and candidates as well as with law schools; keeping abreast of market trends; and establishing and maintaining professional relationships with search firms, law schools and other legal recruiting professionals. I also believe that having a strong recruiting team is important to bounce ideas off each other to better serve the firm.
AALM: What is the secret to acquiring the best recruits?
JS: The biggest secret to acquiring the best recruits is knowing the firm. What can I tell the best recruits about Seyfarth that would want to make them work with us? Knowing the firm is not just knowing and understanding the different practice groups. Rather, it’s getting to know the people – managing partners, practice group leaders, other partners, associates at all levels, secretaries and support staff, and our talent development and HR teams. Most firms have similar practices, similar compensation scales and similar billable hours, but what makes each firm stand out is the people who work there.
AALM: What prompted your transition from practicing law to recruitment?
JS: I was a litigator for 13 years in South Florida (I’m originally from the Boston area, but went to law school in Miami and decided to stay in South Florida). Toward the end of my legal career, I began to get burned out and was tired of arguing and fighting with opposing counsel, judges, my clients and even my colleagues over even the simplest of matters, especially in instances where compromise could resolve an issue.
I’ll never forget a time where my colleague essentially had a scorched earth policy over every aspect of a particular case. A fairly simple issue arose and I suggested we call opposing counsel to resolve it and she told me he hated us and would never agree to it. I convinced her to let me call and opposing counsel could not have been nicer and he agreed to our request. This resolution saved us hours of time and our client hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. This was just but once case that convinced me that practicing law was no longer in my heart and it was time to move on.
I moved into recruiting, in part, after speaking with a friend of mine in Boston who himself had transitioned from lawyer to in-house recruiter. At the time, I did not even know these types of positions existed. The notion of in-house recruiting appealed to me immediately, especially because I had been very involved with student recruiting while practicing. It was also around this time that I decided to move back to Boston where I believed I would have better opportunities in recruiting since larger firms are concentrated in the city.
Prior to moving, my Boston friend introduced me to several people in his network with whom I met for informational interviews. These meetings helped me recognize that landing an in-house recruiting position would be challenging, especially because I did not have a strong connection with Boston anymore. Thankfully, however, one of the people with whom I met was a recruiter with the search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA). She let me know that MLA had an opportunity, so I met with more folks at MLA and ended up accepting a position there. MLA taught me about recruiting and allowed me the opportunity to network and establish myself professionally in Boston. Working at MLA was an integral step in my career path and prepared me for in-house recruiting.
AALM: Do you miss practicing law?
JS: I really don’t. When I left the practice, I thought I might miss some aspects, like getting a “win” for a client or analyzing an issue and working through a problem, but I never did. In fact, I quickly learned that recruiting offered me all of those things that I thought I would miss — getting a “win” for a candidate by helping him or her land a job or having a dream candidate accept a position with the firm, analyzing processes and procedures to determine what is and isn’t working, and making suggestions and implementing those ideas to make improvements.
AALM: What do you feel are the greatest challenges for recruitment professionals?
JS: I think that the greatest challenges in this role are juggling everything that comes our way from keeping tabs on open positions, scheduling interviews, planning events, preparing offer letters and ensuring candidates are on-boarded smoothly all the while ensuring that the proper people are looped in. Even with the best organizational skills, the position can sometimes be overwhelming. Nevertheless, these challenges make this role interesting and the rewards – such as having the perfect candidate accept a position with us, successfully implementing a new process or procedure or providing advice to law students – are the icing on the cake!
AALM: Your position as regional recruiting manager covers three offices. What special challenges does such a broad geographical create?
JS: Although I am based in Chicago, I cover recruiting for Seyfarth’s Houston and Seattle offices. The biggest challenges in covering three offices are learning each of the markets and ensuring each office that I am there for them and that my attention is not just focused on my home office.
Shortly after starting at the firm, I visited our Houston office and met with several of our lawyers to introduce myself and discuss immediate and future needs. I also met with several search firms to introduce myself and to discuss the Houston market. I’ve maintained a strong relationship with our team in Houston by participating in monthly phone calls with the office managing partner and hiring partners and visiting the office every three months.
I recently started recruiting for the firm’s Seattle office, our newest office that opened within the past few months. My plan is to treat Seattle in the same way that I’ve treated Houston: visiting the office every few months, maintaining contact with the office managing partners and hiring partners and establishing relationships with search firms.
AALM: Can you speak to the importance of diversity when hiring?
JS: Diversity is extraordinarily important when hiring. Diversity brings different perspectives and values not only just to the firm, but also to our clients. Within the past year, Seyfarth hired our chief inclusion & diversity (I&D) officer to expand the firm’s culture of inclusion and to advance diversity within the firm’s partnership. Our I&D officer participates in the interview process with diverse partner candidates to provide them with more information on our efforts to recruit and retain diverse candidates.
AALM: Tell us a little about yourself and life outside the office.
JS: I love to travel and without having to worry about billable hours anymore, I feel less guilty about taking a two-week vacation! In the past few years, I’ve been to Australia, Iceland, Costa Rica, South Africa, Peru, Thailand and Cambodia. Most recently, I was in New Zealand for three whole days (the trip was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic), but I will make it back there some day!