I’m an experienced attorney recruiter, and a few weeks ago I received this email from a senior Shareholder I know at a long-standing law firm client: “Hello, can I get you out to lunch?”  This surprised me a bit, because it’s unusual for a partner to initiate a lunch unless they’re telling me they want to leave their firm.   We have trouble coordinating a date which works for both of us, so he asks me to drop by their office the next morning.  So much for my “he wants to leave the firm” theory.

Upon arrival at their office, we head into a conference room, sit down, and the partner promptly slides a small, folded piece of paper across the table.  Obviously, my first response is, “What’s this?”

He responds, “We know you referred our new COO into the firm, and we wanted to acknowledge that, as well as thank and compensate you with this check.”  To say I was stunned is the understatement of the year.

Flashback:  A few months prior, I had pitched my search services for an unposted COO role.  I brought a folder of materials into the meeting including a blind profile of a candidate I had already spoken to who would be a perfect fit for the role; I wanted to show them I had access to local, C-suite candidates, even though I had historically only done attorney placement for the firm.

A week after the meeting, I found out I didn’t get the search.  Instead, they went with an out-of-state executive search firm which focuses on C-level hires.  I was disappointed, as this is a long-standing client of mine and they were ideally looking for someone local.  Additionally, I know the firm well, which is a big advantage when recruiting at this level.  However, losing a search opportunity is just another day-in-the-life of a recruiter.

Upon hearing the disappointing news, I called the candidate I had contacted about the role and shared the name of the law firm.  I told him I didn’t get the search, didn’t know the name of the out-of-state search firm which did, and to go forward on his own, keeping me out of it.  Like a savvy candidate should, he contacted the firm directly, got an immediate interview, and was hired without the firm ever having to engage the other search firm.

A few things:  1)  The firm didn’t have to pay me a dime – they didn’t owe me anything – but they recognized what I had done and respected it (and I saved them a lot of time and money); 2)  I didn’t expect that aforementioned dime (regardless of how things played out with the blind candidate profile I’d presented at my pitch, I didn’t get the search);  3) I wasn’t obligated to tell the candidate the name of the firm on this search, but it was the right thing to do; and 4)  Without getting the search, I showed my client that I have access to excellent C-suite candidates, so I believe they will use me for similar roles in the future.

Doing the right thing is never the wrong answer.  The result of the accumulated events in this story was a rare and very unexpected partial fee for a placement I didn’t make – but arguably facilitated – and a solidification of a long-term business relationship between myself and my client.