Over the last decade, Nick Goseland has emerged as one of Silicon Valley’s top legal matchmakers. Utilizing deep industry knowledge and an extensive network, he connects high-performing partners with elite law firms in an increasingly vital legal market.
Goseland started as a securities litigator after earning his J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law in 2008. Before law school, he received his bachelor’s degree in international affairs and subsequently worked as a corporate trainer in China; he still speaks fluent Mandarin. During law school, he clerked for the U.S. Department of State, then spent his early career practicing law at a high-profile boutique.
In 2012, Goseland transitioned to legal recruiting, first joining the Shanghai and later the San Francisco Bay Area office of a national firm. He thrived in the new role and eventually left to operate his own successful boutique, Edgewater Search Group. He imagined he’d run his own shop for the rest of his career, but when transatlantic recruiting firm Macrae came calling, he was intrigued. He joined Macrae in Palo Alto in 2022.
Goseland and his Bay Area colleagues – which include founder Joe Macrae – are part of a highly integrated network of offices in New York, Washington, D.C. and London. Like all Macrae recruiters, Goseland focuses exclusively on partner recruiting, placing high-level lawyers and partner groups into world-class firms’ Northern California offices. Speaking to his decision to join the firm, Goseland says, “The impressive concentration of elite talent at Macrae blew me away. From the recruiters to the knowledge management, data research and executive management teams, everyone is world-class.”
Goseland’s approach – which is led by expertise, integrity and compassion – consists of empowering attorneys and building long-lasting relationships. With more than 200 placements to his name, that strategy has proven more than effective. Goseland was named a Lawdragon Global 100 Leader in Legal Strategy and Consulting in 2023.
Lawdragon: You’ve had quite a unique career path that has included practicing securities litigation, working as a corporate trainer in Shanghai and running your own recruiting firm prior to joining Macrae in 2022. Can you take us on a brief tour of your career?
Nick Goseland: I think you just did! My path from private practice to legal recruiting was actually fairly routine, but I suppose there aren’t many U.S. legal recruiters who worked in China prior to and after law school. I think that international experience has served me well, both in understanding our clients’ global businesses and the various intricacies candidates with cross-border practices have to navigate.
LD: What led you to join Macrae?
NG: I spent the first eight years of my legal recruiting career with a national firm. I then transitioned to running my own boutique. I was happy and, frankly, never thought I’d return to a larger platform. Macrae was continuing to expand and Sarah Morris, whom I’d worked with closely at my previous firm, persuaded me to meet with some of her colleagues. Admittedly, it took some persistence but I was quickly glad that she put in the effort.
With every conversation, it was abundantly clear that Macrae’s team and I shared the same values around recruiting. This is not a transaction-oriented shop looking to haphazardly make a few fast placements. The recruiters I met shared a commitment to making deliberate, purposeful matches and providing a level of service that was, from what I could discern, unmatched in the market.
LD: What do you find most rewarding about your work as a recruiter?
NG: My hero as a child was Broncos quarterback John Elway – growing up in Denver and idolizing anyone else is pretty much illegal. But these days I increasingly admire Zen and meditation masters. For that reason, I think the moments when I can provide candidates assurance and peace of mind in the midst of what is often an emotionally charged process are the most rewarding. I’ll admit that the rush of making a placement still ranks high, but I take satisfaction in being a valued consultant irrespective of the outcome. For our candidates, who are professionals operating at the height of their field, the pressure to make the right decision can be enormous. To help guide them in those times and ease their mind when stressful junctures arrive is immensely fulfilling.
LD: So would you say that your approach to working with candidates is “Zen-like”? How very Bay Area of you!
NG: Ha, in some ways I suppose you could say that. I don’t believe in pressuring candidates. I’ll inform them if I think they are not considering a key element in their decision because I believe that’s our responsibility irrespective of how it may influence the result. I’ve never operated under the illusion, however, that we are or should be the ones making their career decisions.
A mentor once analogized our role to a GPS system, which I think makes a lot of sense. Our candidates are in the driver’s seat throughout the process and our responsibility is to help them identify and get to the right destination. This means taking into consideration new and sometimes surprising information we learn along the way, overcoming obstacles that crop up, and ensuring that when our candidate arrives everything is in place for a successful start to this new phase of their career.
LD: That does sound fairly enlightened.
NG: Well, I’d love to brag, but I’m not always so enlightened. There are moments in every process when our candidates need a fierce and relentless advocate, whether it be helping them to negotiate compensation, find a creative way to bridge a gap on conflicts, or navigate other financial considerations that might impede their goal. On those days, the litigator in me comes out in spades.
LD: It sounds like there’s a war story in there somewhere?
NG: Yes, more than a few. I can recall one of my candidates several years ago received an offer eclipsing 40% of their projected originations. In most cases that’s a compelling ratio, and it was going to be a raise, so my candidate was prepared to accept without countering. With their approval, though, I urged the firm to consider several client engagements my candidate was likely to generate but that were not factored into prior originations because the candidate was conflicted out at their current firm. The firm agreed and upped the offer, ultimately netting a significant and I think well-deserved windfall for the candidate.
That’s one thing I love about partner recruiting – our clients almost universally are equally invested in a positive outcome, so they tend to appreciate the advocate quality as well.
There are moments in every process when our candidates need a fierce and relentless advocate, whether it be helping them to negotiate compensation, find a creative way to bridge a gap on conflicts, or navigate other financial considerations that might impede their goal.
LD: Speaking of qualities, which do you think separate you from other recruiters?
NG: Expertise, integrity and compassion are probably the top three qualities that guide my approach.
Expertise is fundamental. Partner moves are complex and multifaceted, so a good recruiter needs to have a deep understanding of the legal market, the intricacies of compensation structures and the lateral transition process. Our clients and candidates are highly sophisticated, so without this expertise we aren’t adding any value to the equation.
Integrity is also paramount. Our candidates need guidance on the practical aspects of the lateral process as well as honest, unbiased advice on how a particular opportunity aligns with their goals and practice. I know firsthand what it’s like to own and transition from a successful business, which is precisely what our candidates must do. This gives me a keen understanding of just how stressful the endeavor can be and how important it is to have trustworthy information at every step.
Compassion is one that surprises most people, which is understandable – after all, we aren’t grief counselors, right? There are occasions, though, when compassion is a critical component of our work with candidates. The obvious example is when a candidate falls short of securing an offer. But sometimes it’s needed when they accept an offer, for instance, to another firm that was never disclosed to the recruiter. Some recruiters will react quite negatively in these moments, choosing to take it as a personal insult. A lot of time can be invested so it’s an understandable reaction, but the compassionate response, which I think is imperative, is to understand the emotional stress in a move of this magnitude and give them some grace.
LD: Still, I imagine you have a pink post-it note stuck to your computer monitor that says, “Remind candidates to loop me in on all the firms they’re talking to!”
NG: Ha, are you spying on me? Seriously, though, as recruiters we have to remember that our candidates have a million things going on in their lives, and there are times when we can’t possibly understand their every motivation and decision. It’s our job to support them, not to read their minds.
Also, I should clarify that there are many other recruiters who prioritize these, or similar, core values as well, including my colleagues at Macrae. But unfortunately, the low barrier to entry in our profession attracts some whose “top three qualities” would probably make your jaw drop.
LD: It sounds like the recruiting process can involve various twists and turns. Do your candidates tend to have a good grasp on what it entails? Is there anything they often find challenging or surprising?
NG: It’s a mix. There’s certainly a steeper learning curve for candidates who haven’t previously moved firms. Most everyone knows that the process will require them to invest a good deal of time in meetings and in completing Lateral Partner Questionnaires. A good recruiter can significantly help to lighten the load in both. However, every law firm has different requirements when it comes to these, which can sometimes catch candidates off-guard. Navigating the process requires artfully balancing the timing so that each firm involved has an opportunity to compete, feels listened to along the way and, even if they aren’t the ultimate selection, feels that the process was carried out with respect and goodwill. The legal community is a small and intimate one, especially here in the Bay Area, so it’s vital that we guide candidates through the process in a way that preserves and ideally enhances their relationships.
LD: The Bay Area legal market may be small, but it has grown significantly over the past decade. What are some of the most noticeable changes you’ve seen? Are there any significant shifts or developments under way now?
NG: We’ve seen an enormous influx of investment in the Bay Area by law firms over the last 10 years, with Am Law 100 and Magic Circle firms opening about 30 new offices. When I started out in legal recruiting in 2012, there were quite a few Am Law 50 firms that didn’t yet have a presence in either San Francisco or Silicon Valley. I believe that number now stands at one.
As for current shifts in the legal landscape here, AI is certainly at the forefront. I had the privilege recently of representing a prominent AI partner, and to say that firms were interested in this individual would be a massive understatement. Law firms are placing a premium on securing high-level talent in preparation for the AI revolution heading our way. At the same time, they’re figuring out how best to corral and position AI talent within their firms – not a simple or obvious task given the many practice areas that intersect in AI. While a handful of global firms like Orrick and Gibson Dunn introduced AI-focused practice groups as early as 2018, the pressure has really ramped up in the past couple of years to follow suit and firms have been doing so in droves.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
NG: I love traveling overseas with my family, playing blues guitar and I remain to this day an avid Broncos fan. I also meditate regularly, which has proven particularly helpful in being a Broncos fan…they've struggled for a while. I’m also obsessed with fitness and have an affinity for ice baths, which my colleagues like to tease me about. I’ve been encouraging them to deliberately jump in freezing water but they haven’t come around yet. It’s just a matter of time, though…I’ll wear them down!