With BigLaw experience under her belt, Karen Siddall decided to move from billing hours to building law firm ranks. But Siddall—founding director of Balance Legal—added a unique twist to her recruiting focus: in addition to placing attorneys in full-time positions, Balance Legal assists attorneys seeking flexible working arrangements. How did Siddall jump from BigLaw life into recruiting, and what advice does she have for job seekers battling the down economy? Check out our interview below.
Vault Law: When did you decide to pursue a career in law and why?
Karen Siddall: I had always found the law fascinating, however, this was more from TV programmes like L.A Law than the actual law itself! I initially started studying at University and then left as I didn’t feel I was ready for it at that time. I worked on the airlines long-haul for three years, at which time I was ready to return to study. So I embarked on the Institute of Legal Executive exams part-time by distance learning (which was great as I was often away, staying in hotels for a week or two at a time. So I had plenty of time to study). I was then fortunate enough to secure a role as a Trainee Legal Executive at Eversheds Solicitors, a top-tier international law firm. I completed my studies and qualified at Eversheds.
VL: What were your favourite parts of practicing at a large firm?
KS: It was great being involved in heavyweight commercial litigation disputes. I was exposed to some really interesting cases and points of law. With it being a large firm covering every possible area of law, there was always an expert in another discipline on hand to call on as and when a case threw up other issues (for example, Employment law issues). The professional support was fantastic, with lots of training and seminars. And the firm was very sociable and organised some great events, sports clubs and away days, which were always fun.
VL: How did you break in to legal recruiting?
KS: I really enjoyed working for Eversheds, but I often felt that I would be better suited to working in another practice area—one that was more people-orientated such as Employment or Family Law. Whilst I worked on some interesting cases, I often found it difficult to get excited about a contractual dispute. I therefore went to meet with a legal recruiter to explore the option of changing to another area of law. It was during the course of this meeting that the recruiter asked if I had ever thought about a career in legal recruitment—and the rest is history!
VL: What are the top trends you are noticing now in legal recruitment in the UK
KS: The market is very different to what it was say 4-5 years ago. For example, corporate and commercial property / real estate lawyers were in exceptionally high demand, but due to the downturn in the property market and the economy as a whole over the past few years, a lot of these candidates are now without jobs and are turning to other professions, tutoring or setting up as freelance consultants. Businesses are looking at other ways of recruiting and attracting talent directly rather than using recruiters, which means that competition between recruiters is fiercer than it previously was. Finally—and one of the most important changes for me personally— many firms are realising that they can save costs and still recruit highly-skilled lawyers by employing them on part-time or flexible bases, resulting in a win-win for all concerned. In industry and commerce, businesses are recruiting more on fixed-term contracts due to uncertainty and also recruiting lawyers more on part-time bases as it is often more cost effective than instructing external lawyers and means they have a lawyers dedicated to their businesses.
VL: What makes Balance Legal different from other recruiting firms?
KS: Balance Legal operates very differently to traditional and mainstream recruiters. A lot of recruiters shy away from candidates looking for part-time work, usually because it means that they will secure a lower salary than a full-time equivalent, which inevitably results in a lower fee for the recruiter than if they placed someone on a full-time basis. Here at Balance Legal, a large part of our business is actually dedicated to placing legal professionals in to part-time and flexible roles within private practice and industry. As a small business, we don’t work on a huge volume basis driven by KPI’s; we adopt a “quality over quantity” approach, taking the time to get to know our clients and candidates. Only by adopting this approach can we really be in a position to successfully match our clients and candidates.
VL: What advice do you have for law students and lawyers interested in pursuing alternative legal careers?
KS: The skills you gain training to be a lawyer can be used in so many ways. Gone are the days when if you studied law then the only career route for you was as a lawyer. There are now many careers in which you can directly use your legal training and experience (e.g. legal recruiting or lecturing). Other popular paths include training and coaching. The key is to identify what your strengths are and what you actually like and dislike, as this will help you to identify an alternative career to which you will be best suited. Carry out as much research as you can, and talk to people who have pursued alternative careers and find out how they went about it and what advice they have. Social Media is a great way of making contact with people in different areas if you don’t have many direct contacts yourself—you never know what opportunities may come from it.
VL: How has your legal experience helped you as a recruiter and business owner?
KS: There is no doubt that the fact that I have worked within the legal profession myself has helped me become a successful legal recruiter. It definitely helps me to fully understand what my clients are looking for and what type of person would fit well within their businesses. A lot of my clients find it makes their recruitment a lot easier having a legal recruiter who has a good understanding of the business, as it makes the process less time consuming for them, which is ultimately what we are here for. In terms of my candidates, I can empathise with them and also probe them more about their responsibilities and current roles rather than just take for granted what is written in their CV. I can identify any inconsistencies and ultimately, work with them to prepare a better CV which contains all the relevant information that my clients look for.
VL: What are your top tips for UK lawyers searching for jobs now?
KS: It is without doubt a very competitive market at the moment. Lawyers need to make themselves “stand out from the crowd.” Even if they have been made redundant, they need to keep themselves active in the legal sector by doing pro bono or consultancy work. It is imperative that lawyers make themselves as flexible as possible and keep open minds in terms of relocation (subject to family circumstances). Lawyers should make use of new job e-mail alerts on the legal recruitment websites and ensure that they are working with recruiters who fully understands their skills and experience and who are working pro-actively on their behalves. Lawyers should make use of their own contacts as far as is possible and request personal introductions to potential employers of interest via their contacts on LinkedIn. Lawyers looking for work need to attend networking events and seminars relevant to their legal sectors to increase their profiles and networks of contacts. Finally, when applying for jobs, a lawyer must never send a standard cover letter and CV for every job. It should be made relevant to the position the lawyer is applying for and should always include a short paragraph summary containing skills, experience, industry sector and major achievements.
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Karen Siddall is the founding director of Balance Legal Recruitment. She has worked as a legal recruiter and manager since 2002 for a large national consultancy as well as a smaller local professional services recruitment company. Prior to her career in recruitment, she worked as a lawyer within the commercial litigation & dispute resolution department of a leading international law firm. She has experienced the recruitment process from both sides and has a thorough understanding of what is important to clients and candidates during its course.
Karen is married and has two beautiful daughters, providing her an understanding of how job requirements can change over time and the difficulties often facing working parents. She is acutely conscious of the benefits both to employer and employee of part-time and flexible working solutions, including fixed-term contracts, and has particular experience placing legal professionals into positions of this nature.
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