Photo by Amy Cantrell
Robert Clemons knows the power of legal recruiting firsthand: A former attorney, he was recruited to the recruiting industry by his brother-in-law, Gary Miles. The idea of continuing to work within the legal industry, with the same fast pace of his legal career but with new challenges, excited Clemons. His leap of faith paid off: Within just a couple of years, Miles and Clemons found their partnership so cohesive that they founded a new firm, Miles Partner Placement. The firm thrives on the idea that elite nationwide and international recruiting can be performed by a small but mighty group of high-level recruiters. Clemons and his team have conducted searches and placements in major U.S. markets for A-list firms like Reed Smith, Orrick and Paul Weiss.
With experience as both a lawyer and a recruiter, Clemons is uniquely poised to provide in-depth knowledge to both law firms and partner candidates in a wide scope of practice areas and markets. His approach to recruiting is empathetic and all-in; Clemons believes that 100 percent investment in a client is the key to recruiting success. “Whether a law firm or a partner candidate, invest fully in who they are and what they do,” he says. “Give them that sense of confidence in knowing that you're genuinely invested in them. It goes such a long way in creating a thriving relationship.”
Lawdragon: Can you describe the types of services you provide as a recruiter?
Robert Clemons: My services are twofold. On the law firm side, I provide legal search consulting as firms seek partner talent to fulfill their strategic initiatives. On the partner side, I provide my market expertise and intelligence to create a comprehensive analysis with the goal of optimizing the partner’s law firm options within that market.
LD: How did you first become interested in switching from practicing law to being a legal recruiter?
RC: I like to say that I was recruited to become a recruiter by the very best recruiter, as I was approached by my brother-in-law, Gary Miles, principal of Miles Partner Placement.
At the time, I was practicing law and regularly attending settlement conferences nearby his office in Santa Monica, Calif. I'd come visit him in between sessions. Gary and his uncle, Alan Miles, had been quite successful in making placements over the years and the minute you walked into their office, you knew why. The energy, excitement and fast-paced conversation was exactly what I enjoyed about practicing law. Though I am a lawyer, it was a leap of faith to enter the business knowing I would leave a career I love. Gary and Alan being my family made it so much easier and more successful.
LD: Once you made the switch, what did you find satisfying about being a recruiter? What do you like about working with lawyers on this side?
RC: The most satisfying aspect of this job is successfully fulfilling a law firm or respective partner’s strategic need in a way that they see you as critical to their further business and growth initiatives.
I've always loved working with lawyers, both as a lawyer and as a recruiter. Being a recruiter with a national practice has afforded me the opportunity to work with and befriend some great people and professionals all over the country, as well as outside of the U.S.
LD: How does your experience as a lawyer inform your work as a recruiter?
RC: Everything that led me to the legal profession led me to being a recruiter. I prepare now in the same ways I always have as an attorney. My approach and conversations with law firms and partner candidates are the same as when I worked with my clients as an attorney. The substance may vary but the form is much the same.
The energy, excitement and fast-paced conversation was exactly what I enjoyed about practicing law.
LD: What led you to want to be a lawyer – anything in your undergraduate education?
RC: Not necessarily. I've wanted to be a lawyer since I was in junior high school. I think my undergraduate work provided me the foundation of a great work ethic.
LD: Tell me about your time in undergrad and law school. Did you have any mentors?
RC: I have my Juris Doctor from Santa Clara University School of Law. I can confidently say that everything I learned in law school created an excellent foundation for what I do today.
I had a few professors in college who pulled me aside and told me that I needed to consider advanced studies. I'll never forget a young career counselor at my college, Michael Gibson, who began setting up monthly chats for me to sit and explain how I was preparing myself and what steps I was taking to get into graduate studies. From there, my pre-law professor, Dr. Harvey Grody, at California State University at Fullerton, worked with me on interfacing with law schools and getting me through the application process. I give the people at my alma mater all the credit for taking an interest and such good care of me.
LD: Were there any other mentors who really shaped the course of your career?
RC: Every day with my mom and dad provided that experience. There were no better mentors than the both of them.
LD: Did you ever expect you might become a recruiter when you started your career?
RC: I did not expect to have this job as young person. At a very young age, I’d always tell myself that I was going to win the Heisman trophy, then become a lawyer. I’m glad I got at least one of the two.
LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in recruiting, what would you say is the most interesting negotiation you’ve worked on?
RC: I think there are several, but I’d say the work I’ve done for clients that requires me to take on a global analysis of their strategic needs, such as energy-related initiatives, is always the most interesting. Such initiatives require your attention to an ever-changing landscape both domestically and abroad as there are so many factors that can affect a firm’s growth plans, like new foreign and domestic policy or new legislation, environmental concerns causing limitations on resources, geopolitical concerns, etc. It's fascinating but requires constant study, asking questions and having an overall grasp of what could affect your respective law firm clients and/or partners.
On separate fronts, it is exciting to work in high-profile areas such as white-collar or entertainment, where you constantly see the firms and partners your work with or pursue in the news media – and, in most instances, involved in something that can affect the way in which you handle a firm’s strategic initiative or approach a partner’s free agency in the legal market. It’s interesting and fun!
LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in recruiting in terms of the types of matters keeping you busy these days?
RC: At Miles Partner Placement, we typically work with Global 50 firms. Firms so large that they sort of create their own respective internal trends. I don't see firms necessarily operating in the same direction. One size does not fit all, and firms vary greatly in terms of their respective strategic needs.
LD: What advice do you have now for current students or young professionals who wish to have a similar type of career?
RC: Work very hard. Most of all, take chances. Leave no "shoulda, coulda, wouldas" out there. Take a chance and do it!
LD: Do you have any negative experiences in advising lawyers that taught you new approaches, or caused you to reconsider working in this space?
RC: I make no distinction with lawyers versus any other profession or person. No matter what the profession or trade, you will have an array of personalities and diversity of people. In this profession, as in others, all the cliches come true: You need to know your audience, read the room and open yourself up to diverse people and diverse thought. Be patient, yet firm with your principals.
LD: What advice would you give potential clients – either law firms or candidates – in terms of how to work most effectively with a recruiter?
RC: Strategic initiatives vary from firm to firm. It’s like building a custom home. Let's plan and prepare. Tell me what you want and be specific. General requests typically turn into a bunch of change orders that can often prolong the process, increase its costs and even derail a project. The better prepared we are going in, the better the result.
LD: What makes Miles Partner Placement unique compared to other recruiting firms? How do you “sell” the firm?
RC: We sell ourselves. We don't email; we call. We talk. We study. We prepare in such an advanced way that the firm or partner understands we're invested in them and knows we appreciate who they are.
LD: How have firm management challenges changed compared to your work as an attorney?
RC: Whether practicing law or recruiting in law, what never changes is hard work, being prepared through study and rehearsal, and knowing how to react in real time. All the preparation in the world means nothing if you can't execute.
Strategic initiatives vary from firm to firm. It’s like building a custom home. Let's plan and prepare.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
RC: I am an elite sports parent – if that is an actual job or hobby! I have four children; three are now adults, but from elementary school to the college level, I'm the proud father of children who have played and continue to play at all levels. A lot of time over the years has been committed to their participation. As a parent, you figure out how to mix in your job, travel, vacations, leisure, etc. based on whose tournament is where. At the same time, it’s a great source of keeping your family together and enjoying that quality time.
LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the law?
RC: It may be corny, but I loved Matt Damon's character in John Grisham's "The Rainmaker." I will never forget taking a deposition for the first time and the old-heads sort of snickering and laughing as I plotted through my long-written list of questions. But the laughing and snickers would always stop when I asked the right question.
LD: If you weren’t a recruiter, what would you be doing now?
RC: I would be back in court, trying cases and standing outside in the court hallways negotiating, fussing, laughing and remaining in the law.