Gary Miles (L) and Robert Clemons.
Photo by Amy Cantrell.

In the legal recruiting world, connections span across industries and even continents. To stay up to speed on shifting global markets, many of the top recruiting firms employ upwards of 50 recruiters in offices across the country. But Gary Miles and Robert Clemons, co-founders of California-based Miles Partner Placement, tackle the legal search world with a team of just five powerhouse recruiters.

When brothers-in-law Miles and Clemons decided to start their own recruiting firm, they had a vision of how they wanted their practice to look: One where recruiters were less headhunters and more counselors. A practice for the elite, not the everyday. One where there was no move too large, even for a small team. Like a family. It’s fitting: For co-founder Gary Miles, the law has always been a family affair.

With two lawyers for parents, the dinner table frequently became a hotspot for legal debate. Miles’ father is still a practicing lawyer in Western Mass.; his mother was a senior staff attorney for Justice John Greaney – and it goes back even farther than that. Miles comes from three generations of attorneys on his father’s side. His maternal grandmother, meanwhile, graduated second in her class at Columbia Law School, in only the second class that admitted women – several years before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did the same.

Despite being born into the legal industry, when it came time to choose a career, Miles shifted gears. He felt passionately about the impact he could have in the public school system and spent 15 years as a middle school teacher and high school basketball coach for low-income students. He started a family of his own. The law wasn’t part of his life.

But one more member of his family had roots in the legal industry. His uncle, Alan Miles, while not a lawyer, was developing a successful legal recruiting practice in Santa Monica. Miles’ uncle spent years asking him to come over.

Finally, in 2007, Miles agreed.

Immediately, Miles proved himself adept at the profession. Within his first couple of years, he was heading high-profile transactions and took the firm, Alan Miles & Associates, to the national stage. In 2008, he closed more than 20 separate partner and group transactions and generated more than $6M in revenue for the firm – a staggering number for someone in their second year in the field.

From the outset, Miles found that building strong relationships was the key to the recruiting business. In his first year as a recruiter, Miles got in on the ground floor with global law firm Reed Smith. The law firm was just beginning to be recognized as a national and international powerhouse, but the legal industry didn’t yet recognize its full potential. Miles did.

He worked closely with Reed Smith’s leadership to understand the firm’s story and to share it with candidates, bringing elite partners to the firm’s west coast locations and opening new offices. Building that relationship with an emerging law firm set Miles’ career in motion. “I think that the deal with Reed Smith was transformational for my career in that it established me as a recognizable brand, and it also expanded me into various markets successfully,” he reflects. Since then, Miles has placed more than 100 partners at elite firms including Paul Weiss, Kirkland & Ellis and Cooley and has opened offices for firms like Orrick and Brown Rudnick.

Reed Smith was just beginning to be recognized as a national and international powerhouse, but the legal industry didn’t yet see its full potential. Miles did.

Miles also spearheaded efforts in firm mergers, a then-largely untapped market for legal recruiters. In 2009, just over a year into his practice, Miles facilitated Bingham McCutchen’s headline-grabbing acquisition of McKee Nelson. “Truth be told, I don't know a recruiter prior to the Bingham McKee Nelson merger that was involved in another AmLaw 100 acquisition of an AmLaw 200-size firm. Most of those were consultants,” Miles explains. Now, Miles identifies firm mergers as an increasing trend in the legal recruiting market.

With his feet under him, it was time to expand the family business. Back when Miles was still teaching, one more lawyer entered the family tree: When Miles married his wife, Jena, he gained a brother-in-law in lawyer Robert Clemons. Later, steadfast in his belief that Clemons would be an excellent recruiter, Miles followed in his uncle’s footsteps and spent years convincing Clemons to try his hand at recruiting. In 2012, Clemons took the leap. He left his legal practice and joined Miles at Alan Miles & Associates.

Their partnership flourished: Just two years later, Miles and Clemons struck out on their own, and Miles Partner Placement was born.

The new firm proved their capacity for heft early on. They facilitated the move of most of Norton Rose Fulbright’s healthcare practice over to Reed Smith, including components in Washington D.C., New York, Houston and Dallas and opened the firm’s Austin office.

Their smaller placements remain just as high-profile. In 2020, the firm spearheaded energy M&A duo Timothy Moran and Philip Corsello’s transition to Holland & Knight’s D.C. and New York offices. In 2021, they led single-partner placements for prominent partners at Kirkland & Ellis and Greenberg Traurig.

No matter whether they’re placing a large group or a single elite partner, Miles, Clemons and the rest of their team thrive on high-pressure, high-reward transactions. “It’s about doing what I call the ‘tombstone deals,’” Miles says. “Those are the market deals where, if folks were speaking at a eulogy in front of a community of recruiters, they would focus on those transactions.”

Yet, while they take on large group placements, the firm itself has remained significantly more compact than its peers in the field. In addition to Miles and Clemons, the team at Miles Partner Placement includes experienced recruiters Doug Memel, Vadim Malikin and Spencer Villaseñor. With just five recruiters, they use their small size to their advantage. “Our true distinction is we're small and nimble,” Clemons explains. “But that means we might have to work three times harder than any given shop that has who knows how many recruiters all over the country. But we will still cover the same ground.”

Excelling in such a complex industry with a small team requires tireless dedication – challenges both Miles’ career as a teacher and Clemons’ as a lawyer have prepared them for. In addition to their tenacity, the pair say that recruiting requires looking at each deal individually, like a student or a case. “In the partner game, from single partners onto significant multifaceted groups, every deal is its own organism – its own life force. So, it has its own unique intricacies. You have to be amazingly organized,” Miles says.

Being a successful recruiter, like being a successful lawyer, also requires around-the-clock focus. Miles recalls a time when he and his family were in Hawaii, but he was up at 2:00 a.m. with Clemons (who was in Tahiti) calling a client on the East Coast.  “You’re not a doctor on call 24/7, but you have to function like one if you’re going to play at that level,” Miles says. “If you’re going to be a concierge to both sides of the transaction – the elite – that’s what this job entails.”

Whether they’re placing a large group or a single elite partner, Miles, Clemons and the rest of their team thrive on high-pressure, high-reward transactions.

Often, that commitment to high-caliber results expands beyond borders. Because Miles Partner Placement partners with elite international firms, they have to be up to speed on not only the intricacies of legal markets worldwide, but on how a given country’s political and financial climate influences those markets. “You have to have an understanding of the geopolitics happening around your dealmakers,” explains Miles. “When we take that approach, it makes us consultants versus just mere headhunters.” The team understand that issues happening at any given time in Europe, the Middle East or Asia can have a serious impact on the lives and practices of the attorneys with whom they are working.

Regarding the climate here at home, Miles and Clemons recognize the nationwide calls for diversity and inclusion as vital to progress in the legal industry. “Skilled people come from everywhere, and that’s the beauty of what we’ve learned in the last few decades,” Clemons says. This year, Miles is speaking on an equity and inclusion panel at the National Association of Legal Search Consultants Fall Symposium in Washington, D.C. He’ll be hosting a discussion with Kanarys, a business started by two Black women who have developed a data-driven platform for firms to self-assess how successful they’ve been in upholding D&I initiatives.

When asked what makes recruiting fulfilling, Miles’ answer harkens back to his basketball coaching past: He views every placement as a victory. “The beauty of this business is you get to play for a championship multiple times a year,” he starts to say.

“Every day,” Clemons cuts in.

“Every day,” Miles agrees. “Some you win, some you lose, but whether you win or lose, you’re preparing for the next championship.”