So you spent a considerable amount of time courting, selling and maybe even doing some friendly stalking of that attractive lateral partner candidate with a sizable book. After he or she ignored your emails and didn’t return your calls, a few weeks go by and you read a press release in the legal media announcing the recent move to a competing firm.

Rats. Another one got away from you. You cringe when you consider how much time was spent in meetings that did not bear fruit. Your heart aches when recall how you were led to believe this was a marriage made in heaven.

You have been rejected.

The sting of rejection is painful, even for fancy law firms. But you need to find a way that you can turn this disappointment into a legitimate learning experience.

I’ve seen hundreds of scenarios like this, as this is my nineteenth year as a ‘headhunter.’ Twelve years ago, I started training and consulting to other search firms on the side. I developed processes that improved their recruiting and placement skills. This little project eventually grew into an international training company for recruiters, with over 4,000 search firms investing in my books, training tools and attending my seminars. When it came to failed placements, I introduced to the executive search industry a comprehensive model that I developed on how they can conduct “deal autopsies.” This became a regular part of many search firm’s training meetings each week.

I told my industry colleagues, as I would share with you, that the lessons you need to learn are hidden in the disappointment of failed placements. These failed placements are like the Land of Misfit Toys. You are always surprised to find such magical treasures when you go there. When things go well you are too busy daydreaming about the prospects and counting the dollar signs spinning around in your head; but when the deals fall apart, you start paying attention to how you need to improve.

Here are three ideas to consider as you conduct a mini version of a “deal autopsy” to make positive changes to your law firm’s recruiting process:

1. Review your internal process. Who is the quarterback? Who is the sponsor? These are important roles that you need to clarify.  The quarterback is the partner (usually the office managing partner, practice group leader, or hiring partner) who is taking the lead in managing this process of each placement from start to finish.  Sometimes it is a capable internal recruiter who has enough firm-wide political capital to snap fingers and get partners to make recruiting a priority and execute.

The sponsor is that peer level partner (or could be the same quarterback) who serves as the candidate’s internal advocate and can rally support to get the rest of the partnership interested in bringing the candidate over.  The sponsor usually continues the relationship into assimilation into the firm.

It may be worth your time to flow out your process in a visual format.  For ideas, read one of my previous Above The Law articles here, and download the pdf in the article as a guide to help you create your own visual process flow chart:

2. How much time passed between steps? There is a saying in my profession of recruiting that “Time Kills All Deals.” More time between steps means that your deal is more likely to fall apart.

I recommend a 24-hour response time to each action item. Even if scheduling that next meeting is a week away, get it on the calendar within 24 hours of the previous step.

Each placement develops a rhythm, and extended time between steps allows other potential deal-killing variables to insert themselves into the process. Examples of this include another recruiter trying to place your lateral prospect with another firm; or the prospective lateral referring a large piece of a matter to an internal partner in his current firm, thereby hand-cuffing him for another year. If only you had returned that call earlier or scheduled that meeting sooner, you would have built enough momentum in the candidate’s mind to overcome those opposing forces.

3. Did the candidate not feel very important? If you are interested in this prospect, then you need to make it very clear that he or she is a big deal to your firm. Be specific.

Here is some verbiage you can use. Please do not let its simplicity keep you from using it:

“We see the potential for us to achieve mutual goals because of your experience in_______________ and because of our need for _________________. That will help us to ______________ and will give us the benefit of _______________. And we see that it can help you to achieve ________________ because of _____________.”

Specificity builds credibility. People want to know that they are important, and why they are important. I usually need to draw this out from my clients in the messaging of the opportunity, because as people, it is sometimes hard for us to see the nuance of important opportunities when we are so close to them.

I believe it’s best to spend some time with your fellow partners involved in recruiting to discuss the placements that do not happen. Use this article as a structured dialogue for your meetings about the ones who got away. Use this as a learning tool, and when you do, you’ll be excited when you start seeing more acceptances and more partners moving to your firm. And the sting of rejection will only be a fading and distant memory from the past.

Copyright © 2014 Scott Love

Scott Love grows law firms and accelerates attorney careers by conducting partner-level and group searches for law firms and facilitating law firm mergers. He has been a career ‘headhunter’ since 1995 and is a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy. Scott lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, two children, and a toothless rescue dog named Smoky. He can be reached at 202-737-5555. To learn more, please visit www.attorneysearchgroup.com or email him at scott@attorneysearchgroup.com.