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Law firm recruiters furious at head-hunter’s ‘sexist’ job hunt advice column

A legal head-hunter’s advice column for lawyers seeking work recently had recruiters at law firms up in arms

Legal head-hunter, A. Harrison Barnes, founder and a managing director of BCG Attorney Search in California, recently wrote in his job hunting column that some female recruiters use their positions to find spouses among the associates and partners at their firms. He said that most law firms fill recruiting jobs with women who are “quite attractive and fit,” but also sometimes “ditzy” and “more focused on themselves than their jobs.”

The article was posted to LinkedIn as well as his company’s website – it has since been edited to delete the controversial material, titled “Recruiting Coordinators Are Expected to be Presentable, and in Many Cases, They Will Be Expected to Be Attractive (Most Are in Their Early 20s to 30s).”

Barnes wrote:

“If you have not noticed by now, most legal recruiters are women, and most are quite attractive and fit. This is because they are in positions that involve public relations–sort of like an on-air television newscaster. There is nothing wrong with the fact that most law firms put people like this in these positions because they are the public face of the law firm. What is problematical, though, is that some of these people can also–occasionally–be a little ditzy and not have the other sorts of qualifications that would make them qualified for the job. Not only do they sometimes have more beauty and fewer brains, but they also have more beauty and less interest in people, less ability to connect with people, and similar negative characteristics. This means they expect people to treat them as if they are special and sometimes are more focused on themselves than their jobs.

“It is not uncommon for recruiting coordinators to use their workspaces as a hunting ground for mates–and it works. Many recruiting coordinators marry (or get married to) associates and partners inside of the law firm. This is what happens when attractive and successful people are put in confined spaces 10 hours a day. Once a legal recruiting coordinator gets close to an associate or partner in the firm, the recruiting coordinator may start playing favourites–and often does. People who are close to the associate or partner may get special treatment when applying to the firm, for example. If there is tension in the job of the associate or partner (i.e., getting fired, getting a bad performance review, or leaving), this can affect the performance of the recruiting coordinator a great deal.”

The article then explained how his company can get the attention of recruiters at firms.

Barnes since told sources at Law.com that he regretted his language and apologised for offending legal recruiters and others.

“My point with the article is to help attorneys understand why they’re not hearing back from law firms,” Barnes said. “It wasn’t to attack anybody, it wasn’t to be sexist, it was to make sure that people understand different reasons.”

He said that the purpose of the column was to highlight that romance often blossoms in the workplace, noting that he met his own wife at work.

The article has been met with strong reactions in the sector.  Director of global recruitment at Baker McKenzie, Kate Ferguson, pointed out in a comment on LinkedIn that the article had been edited. “I am afraid that does not undo the fact that many of us read that post on both LinkedIn and his company’s website, and were offended on our own and our colleague’s behalf,” she wrote. She went on to request Barnes to be transparent about amending the column.

Nicole Janes Archibald, a recruiting manager at King & Spalding, called it “extremely sexist, not to mention full of overbroad, inaccurate statements offered without any supporting evidence.”

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