We speak to Hydrogen's one and only Rowena To on how she progressed into Legal recruitment.

Rowena To manages our Middle East Legal recruitment team, helping law firms and companies across the region find and attract the best lawyers from all over the world. Despite having a law degree, before joining Hydrogen she was a recruiter in the Construction industry, so we talked to her about how she made the transition into Legal, how it differs to her previous sector and what she thinks it takes to be a successful Legal recruiter.
 

Why did you decide to make the move from Construction to Legal?

After I graduated in Law, I spoke to a rec2rec, who got me thinking about sales and recruitment, and without giving sectors much thought, I ended up in Construction, sourcing senior executives for the major house builders. I had a friend at Hydrogen who later told me about their successful Legal team and their great company incentives, and who thought I’d be a great fit – so I went for it!

Aside from my law degree, Legal was attractive because you get to spend more time consulting, getting to know candidates, and providing career advice due to the set career trajectory for most lawyers. At Hydrogen, we’re in the fortunate position to be able to service all our candidates’ career goals and motivations, whether they’re interested in a move in-house or internationally, as we have specific teams covering all these areas.
 

How difficult did you find the transition into the Legal market?

I thought that my law degree would help me, having a few contacts in the sector, but in all honesty my sales experience was more useful as it’s so transferable. You don’t need a technical knowledge of law to move into Legal, as there’s thorough product training at Hydrogen. A good sales background makes the transition so much easier.

What's the best thing about working in Legal?

The fee sizes! Our average fee size in Private Practice is now £22k, and the biggest perm fee is around £168k. You couldn’t get that level from most other professions. I also love the professionalism of our client base and the fact that they want to speak to you, because they have certain points in their career where they need to engage with recruiters. It gives us the opportunity to build long-term relationships from a very early stage in their career.

What is the average deal length in Legal recruitment?

Most perm candidates are on three months’ notice and then when you’re dealing with partners, you’re talking six months’ notice. So, it can take time to build up your network and a name, and it may take you longer, on average, to make your first placement. But there are always exceptions - Eóin in our Ireland team had his first acceptance within two weeks of working client-side!

What is the ratio of BD to resourcing?

When you start at Hydrogen, you focus on candidate generation because that’s the best way to learn about the market. Once you move onto a desk, our teams have warm accounts they can give you straight away, which is a huge selling point because you don’t have to go through mapping a market. I do the majority of my BD when I go to meetings, and then the rest of my quarter is very much candidate focused. I speak to clients 5-10 times a week on average, and the rest of the time will be email correspondence. In London, we attend briefings and events with clients who want to work with us, so it’s just a question of having the right candidates to bring to them.

What is the hardest thing about Legal recruitment?

It’s a really competitive field – there are lots of other experienced recruiters out there who specialise, so that’s challenging.  Lawyers and partners are also on three or sometimes six to 12 month notice periods and the interview process itself can be between two and four rounds for associates and up to 15 rounds for partners so you need to have patience and the ability to keep up the momentum in a process even when there is sometime a long time lag.

What are the characteristics of a good recruiter in the Legal industry?

You need to genuinely have an interest in building long-term relationships with candidates as we engage with them a lot, prepping and debriefing, and meeting them face-to-face. We also look for people who aren’t afraid of the phone. It’s easy to hit 1,000 contacts at once on LinkedIn, but lawyers, who can be from a different background or very senior, want engagement with someone who knows their market and can talk confidently with them about it, so you need to be credible and assured enough to hold those conversations.

There’s a misconception that legal recruiters are all ex-lawyers. But in fact, the skills need to do our job are so different to that of a lawyer.

What are your top tips for someone considering a move into the Legal market?

  1. Research which Legal recruiter you want to work for, because they can have very different client bases and reputations. At Hydrogen, we work with City firms, Magic Circle firms, US firms and many of the top 20 UK firms, rather than high street, personal injury, claimant or criminal firms. We have also been around since 2001 and have a strong network and reputation. 
  2. Invest time in learning about the practice areas and the major players in them because it helps you stand out from your competitors if you are able to fluently discuss the market, any big moves, changes or trends.
  3. Approach Legal with the same volume and enthusiasm as any other recruitment sector. Don’t think of it as different just because the fees are bigger, keep picking up the phone! 
  4. Take advantage of meeting with people in person, you’ll learn so much more about the markets.

What is your best moment at Hydrogen so far?

I have been here a long time and have some amazing memories, such as the incentive trips we’ve been on - Las Vegas, Hvar and Tokyo. We’re lucky to have such a great team, systems and support and it’s been amazing seeing the people around me develop over time too.