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According to Simmons & Simmons’ graduate recruitment partner Alan Gar, top of most of his fellow partners’ wish lists for future trainee qualities is ambition.
At first glance, this seems rather anodyne. A little like saying, “we want the best of the best” or, “we’re looking for the most able and enthusiastic candidates”. As opposed to “the worst of the worst” or “the least able and most lazy”, that is.
Truth is, Simmons’ renewed focus on ambition neatly sums up one major problem that affects all mid-tier City firms: namely, how to balance the message that you offer an alternative to the magic circle but still want your trainees to work hard and rack up the hours.
As one recruiter says: “From experience I can say that the very ambitious candidates choose the magic circle while the less ambitious choose firms like Simmons, precisely because it is not magic circle.”
Attracting candidates who have the ability for the magic circle but lack the appetite for it has obvious repercussions. The nicely, nicely approach does not always equal rocketing revenues, as is evident from Simmons’ performance over the last four years, which has at best flat-lined and at worst endured a particularly rocky year in 2011.
“Market conditions having been what they are for the last few years, there has been less of a focus on this,” admits Simmons managing partner Jeremy Hoyland. “The business of law is just getting harder. We need people who are ambitious, motivated, determined and all the rest of it.”
Simmons’ current predicament, and its aim to drive itself out of the mid-market doldrums, has been mirrored across the City in recent years, with both Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and Dentons launching noticeable drives towards recruiting more ambitious lawyers.
BLP’s recruitment drive culminated in a third of its spring 2012 lateral hiring spree consisting up of former magic circle partners. Dentons’ trainee recruitment campaign underwent a dramatic change from its ‘friendlyfirm.com’ URL to a more aggressive ‘Can you take the heat?’ campaign, complete with chilli-eating trainees.
Signs are Simmons is trying to do the same.
As mid-market firms are continually squeezed by both the magic circle and fast-growing upstarts, such as the ever-spreading DWF, recruiting the technically astute but unambitious candidate is no longer a viable game plan.