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Retained Recruitment Services – A Viable Option for Your Law Firm?

  • February 23, 2023

If you are responsible for hiring within your law firm – either wholly, or as part of your role as a practicing lawyer, one of the choices you have as part of your hiring strategy is whether you go it alone, or enlist the services of a recruitment specialist.

This decision may be based on a number of variables including £budget, speed (the need to get the position filled quickly), and the potential scarcity in the market of the hire(s) in question.

External factors may also impact the decision. The current market, still impacted by headwinds from the pandemic, is undeniably tough as we enter a new year against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and a much-publicised skills shortage. Attracting (and then retaining) talent can be arduous at the best of times, but balancing squeezed budgets, keeping existing staff engaged, and still focusing on growth and expansion is certainly a big ask for law firms who also have the ‘day job’ to do.

Why Choose a Recruitment Partner?

Utilising a sector-specialist recruitment agency will undoubtedly give firms a head start with their hiring campaigns – not only providing general market insight and that helicopter view of the hiring landscape, but also the inside track on movement and access to talent pools of active and passive legal professionals.

Consultants at recruitment firms are just that… able to provide consultative, practical advice on things like the fillability of roles, salary benchmarking, and insight into requirements and drivers of job seekers in the current climate.

They are also best placed to really ‘sell’ your firm and elevate your roles through strategic marketing, advertising, and tapping into the passive talent within their own networks.

In short, it makes absolute commercial sense to bring in the experts when the hiring landscape remains complex, and the candidate, at least for now, is King.

Then again, we would say that…

And once you have decided to partner with a recruitment specialist, the selection process and identifying the right one also needs some careful consideration.

Can’t See the Wood For the Trees?

Choosing the right legal recruitment partner can be a daunting task, especially when there are so many options available. The key to selecting the right partner is to carefully evaluate all of the factors that they bring to the table. A legal recruitment expert has the potential to save firms time, money, and headaches in the search for legal talent. However, the success of your new strategy will depend on your ability to choose the most suitable company for your firm.

You may look at things such as their own longevity (and success) in the market, their brand presence and digital footprint, and whether they are a specialist (and knowledgeable) about your practice area(s) or region in which you operate.

You may also look at the specifics of the services on offer – although this may not always be apparent from a quick glance at the website.

But understanding the recruitment model and service(s) adopted and on offer by the firm is imperative in the decision-making process. Therefore your assessment and due diligence period should always take heed of the specific framework or model that agency subscribes to.

This Way, Or That?

Whilst there are sometimes grey areas and nuances, generally speaking, most recruitment firms will offer either one or two services to their client base.

And, whilst on the face of it, the differences are largely focused on the payment structure and agreement between recruiter and client, the underlying recruitment approach is usually very different.


Contingency recruitment in simple terms works on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, whereby the client only pays a fee for the successful placement of a candidate – usually when that individual starts in their new role.

This tends to be the prevailing model of recruitment in most industries and is often used for entry-level or mid-level positions where the recruiter is likely to have a larger pool of candidates to choose from, and where there is general availability of the required skills in the marketplace.

A standard service offered by recruitment agencies, it gives firms access to the agency’s own extensive network of pre-screened candidates; saving time and allowing a shortlist to be drawn up together, quickly, in line with your instructions.


Retained recruitment refers to the type of recruitment in which the agency is paid a partial fee from the client before the process begins, with the remainder paid upon the successful placement of a candidate into that role.

Typically suitable for executive-level hires, or where there is a scarcity of candidates on the active market, this model often means the agency will enter an exclusive partnership with the client who will help to map the market and help to set goals and milestones on how the search will be conducted.

Retained – More Than Just The Upfront Fee?

Whilst on the face of it, retained recruitment services seem more expensive as there is an upfront fee to pay, regardless of the outcome – there is often much more to this methodology than just the payment structure and T&Cs.

This model is often more rigorous in nature and may include additional features such as:

  • Bespoke market mapping
  • Salary benchmarking intel
  • Psychometric testing
  • Video interviews and candidate profiling
  • Dedicated Account Manager or team of specialist consultants<
  • Regular face-to-face updates and reporting/analysis
  • Strategic headhunting
  • Integrated marketing campaigns including advertising

This is more often than not, a fully-tailored recruitment solution where the agency and consultants will work closely with the hiring team – covering all areas of the active and passive market in a wider, more detailed search.

Is Retained Right For Me?

There are pros and cons of going down the contingency or retained route – and ultimately, it will once again come down to:

  • Scarcity of candidates in the market for the role in question
  • The need to recruit quickly (and impact on the bottom line of that role not being filled)
  • The need to access resources you don’t have yourself
  • Budget
  • Complexity of the hiring project (volume, seniority, location, relocation, etc)

Retained recruitment can offer certain benefits over contingency including:

  • Access to a wider pool of talent – tapping into passive networks who may not be actively looking for a role (and therefore arguably not being targeted by other law firms also hiring in the same practice area or region)
  • Time-saving – the agency takes care of the entire recruitment process, including sourcing, screening, interviewing, and providing detailed shortlists for the client. For time-short individuals in the legal sector – this is often a driving force to outsource in the first place.
  • Cost effective – whilst retained recruitment may involve an upfront fee, it is often seen as more cost-effective in the long run because the agency in question has the expertise and resources to identify the best candidates that are the right ‘fit’ first time for the client. This reduces the risk of a bad hire(and the financial implications that come with that).
  • Increased retention rates – identification, and then a successful placement, of a ‘right fit’ candidate that aligns with the law firm’s culture and values on a deeper level than qualifications and experience, ultimately impacts retention rates and reduced turnover.
  • Professional expertise – a good recruitment specialist, especially those with longevity (and a good reputation) in the market can provide guidance on a consultative basis on recruitment strategies, market trends, and best practice – helping the firm make informed decisions, and moving the whole process on from a simple transactional service

In Conclusion

Retained recruitment and contingency recruitment are two different approaches to hiring – but both may be considered as viable solutions based on your hiring strategy, budget, timescales, and the type of role(s) in question.

Whichever route you choose (which may be a hybrid of the two if the agency offers both services), working with a recruitment specialist that shares your values can help to elevate your business, brand, and roles.

The recruitment process for many businesses can be overwhelming, time-consuming, and costly. Add in the tail end of a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and political instability, and the process soon becomes a minefield.

Yet the objectives remain the same for those responsible for hiring within their law firm – retain, engage, and motivate their existing people, and attract top talent in line with growth and business objectives.

Selecting a recruitment partner that addresses those goals and is mindful of things like ethical recruitment practices – abiding by the highest standards of professionalism, fairness, and transparency, is essential.

And as long as those boxes are ticked…arguably you’re already on the road to success, whichever route you then go on to choose.

Our Services

At Clayton Legal, we offer a number of different services to suit the various (and changing) requirements of our diverse client base.

The services we offer very much start with the specific requirements, hiring strategy, business objectives, and budget, and include a standard contingency service as well as a retained and RPO service offering.

We work at all times with our client’s objectives in mind – to deliver the people they need, swiftly, that are the right fit, first time.

Click here for more information on our range of services, and information on how to get in touch if you would like a more informed discussion about how we can help with your current recruitment project.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals, and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help – whether that’s on a contingency or retained basis.

Call us on 01772 259 121 or get in touch with us here .

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