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Barbara Levenson owns and runs Levenson Schweitzer,Inc., a search firm based in Palo Alto and Los Angeles, CA. Levenson Schweitzer specializes in placing attorneys in all practice areas in Am Law 100 and 200 law firms, boutique law firms, as well as regional and mid-sized law firms. The search firm places attorneys primarily in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. They have also represented corporations and placed international attorneys in the United States. Prior to founding her company, Barbara served as a representative for WestLaw and worked briefly as an employment attorney on the management-side. She has been a legal recruiter for the past twenty-four years.
Barbara was born in Macon, GA, and raised in Palo Alto, CA. She graduated with a B.A. in American Studies from Stanford University and earned her J.D. from Tulane Law School.
When the legal recruiter isn’t working, Barbara enjoys reading, taking Bar Method exercise classes and going to movies. She loves watching comedies, suspense and sports inspirational movies such as The Blind Side. When going out to eat, Barbara enjoys a good steak. Her favorite book is Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade.
Barbara’s Successful Career Path and Tips for Legal Recruiters
Does Barbara have a top memory from school? She explained:
“Dean Fred Hargadon (affectionately called Dean Fred), who was the Dean of Admissions at Stanford for many years, spoke to a peer-counseling group that I was involved with. Dean Fred said that there is a life lesson that we will all have to learn at some point in our lives, and that is to be able to live alone. Hearing that when I was 20 years old had a profound impact, and you know what, he was absolutely right.”
Barbara continued to say that Dean Fred’s message struck a cord with her. The Dean told the peer-counseling group that individuals will live by themselves either by choice or by circumstance. Dean Fred wanted students (and everyone else) to learn how to be comfortable in their own skin. A lesson that isn’t always easy to implement.
What does it take to become a successful legal recruiter? How does Barbara embody these characteristics personally and professionally? She replied:
“A desire to help people make the best career decisions for themselves and the ability to remain objective. I enjoy the opportunity to connect with the candidates and clients whom we represent. I have always been curious about other people and my profession allows me to forge lasting relationships. I have always given advice that I believe is in the best interest of those whom I have represented, or are currently representing.”
Did Barbara transition into working as a recruiter or was she always involved in the field? “Yes, I transitioned into working as a recruiter after a very brief career as an attorney. The qualities that make me a good recruiter didn’t make me a good attorney.”
Why did the recruiter enter the industry? “I like talking to people and I wanted to use my background in my work.I also discovered that I enjoyed working with attorneys, but did not want to work as an attorney.”
Barbara discussed what she is known for professionally. “I am known for my candor, humor and integrity.” The businesswoman added that she is very honest and she provides her candidates with the best advice she can give.
Barbara also discussed her strengths and one weakness as a recruiter. “I am very responsive and am consistently told that I respond to emails very promptly, including nights and weekends.I am also very good at preparing my candidates for their interviews.Interview coaching and resume editing are two of my favorite parts of my job. In terms of weaknesses, I could probably use social media more effectively and I am working on that.”
So what is Barbara’s advice to new recruiters? “Recruiting is hard work and there are a lot of misconceptions about what we do. Learn what your clients expect and exceed expectations. You are representing very bright people and your job is to help them get what they want. It’s about the people you are representing and meeting their needs.”
Considering her twenty-four years of experience in the legal recruiting industry, many readers may want to know where Barbara sees the legal field in the next five years. She claimed, “I think that firms will continue to hire through recruiters. We provide top talent and we can articulate why an opportunity is special. This is a business about relationships and ultimately, it’s these relationships that benefit both parties.”
What does Barbara look for to find the right fit? What makes a great candidate?
The legal recruiter stated, “Aside from meeting the objective criteria for a position, there has to be shared cultural values and chemistry.”
In regards to what makes a great candidate, Barbara also noted:
“A great candidate not only has top credentials and a stable work history, but also views our working together as a team. I believe in full disclosure and I appreciate it when my candidates keep me apprised of any developments that could impact their job search. The more information that they give me, the more effectively I can advocate for them.Conversely, my job is to help them get the information that they need in order for them to make the best career choice for themselves.A good candidate shares the good, the bad and the ugly and so does a good recruiter. It’s very important for a candidate to be upfront with their recruiter. If there are issues happening, I need to know so I can help mitigate any damage that could ensue. I don’t like being blindsided.”
Barbara explained what her recipe is for a perfect match. She asserted:
“In depth knowledge plus instinct makes a perfect match. I am very intuitive and after 24 years of working as a legal recruiter, I know my clients very well and they trust my judgment. From the client’s side, a perfect match is finding a candidate who has the skill set they are seeking and who fits in with the firm’s culture and strategic growth plans. For a candidate, it’s finding a place where they can play a meaningful role, can develop their practice and feel valued for their contributions.”
How does the businesswoman process fear? “By dealing with it head on.”
How does Barbara tackle obstacles? “Getting as much information as possible, speaking with experts and devising the appropriate strategy.”
Has the legal recruiter learned something of value from her mistakes? “Absolutely. It’s the mistakes that we make that provide the biggest lessons. Most people don’t often remember what they did that was correct, but we all remember what we did wrong.”
Where does Barbara derive her confidence? “My confidence stems from listening.I listen to what my clients need and want, and I listen to what my candidates need and want, and I do the best job that I possibly can.”
Professional Associations, Donating Money to Non Profit Organizations, Most Inspiring Influence and Favorite Quote
Does Barbara hold a membership with any professional associations? “I am on the Board of Stanford Professional Women in the Bay Area and when I lived in LA, I was on the Board of Stanford Professional Women of Los Angeles and served as Co-President from 2004-2005. Levenson Schweitzer is a member of NALSC.” The National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) is a voluntary organization of legal recruiters that adhere to the highest ethical standards in the profession.
Does the recruiter support any non-profit organizations? “I donate money to two organizations, AIDS Project Los Angeles and AmFar.” Barbara said AIDS is one the worst diseases that has afflicted individuals in the last century. She also acknowledged that progress has been made to develop medications to halt the progression of AIDS since it was discovered, but there is still no cure and there is still no vaccine to prevent this disease.
I also sponsor a wonderful young man named Jimmy Fowkes, who has been battling brain cancer since he was 12 years old, with his fundraising through the Livestrong Foundation Annual Challenge. He continues to fight cancer, and is now on a leave of absence from his studies at Stanford because he has been undergoing treatment. He and his younger sister have been part of the Livestrong Annual Challenge every year since he was diagnosed and they have ridden hundreds of miles on their bikes and have raised thousands of dollars every year. Last year, his team raised over $17,000. He is an inspiration. If you want to support Jimmy, you can go to his Livestrong page. http://laf.livestrong.org/goto/jfowkes2013
Barbara emphasized that her grandmother was the most inspiring individual in her life.
“My grandmother was truly inspirational. She was wise, diplomatic and she managed to see the humor in every situation. When she developed macular degeneration, she adapted to listening to books on tape and didn't skip a beat. My grandmother often said ‘this too shall pass,’ and I try to remind myself of that when the going gets tough. She described herself as ‘incredibly lucky’ and she lived her life with a sense of gratitude. She was 94 years old when she died in 2001, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her.”
Barbara’s favorite quote is by Lillian Hellman: “I will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” When asked why she likes the quote, the recruiter replied, “Our actions tell the world who we are and what we value. When Ms. Hellman made this statement, she refused to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, during the McCarthy era. I value truth, integrity and speaking from the heart and I try to bring those values into my work and into all of the facets of my life.”
Mentoring Others, Motivation, a Rewarding Position and Barbara’s Goals
Is Barbara a mentor? “While I am not an official mentor, I often speak with law students about their career goals, and college students who are considering going to law school.”
What motivates Barbara to be a recruiter every day? “Preventing attorneys from making career missteps.”
Does the recruiter find her position rewarding? “I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to work with talented attorneys and wonderful clients.” Barbara continued to explain why she likes her occupation. She said:
“During a recession, it’s very challenging to stay positive and motivated, but when the market is active, it’s absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, there are attorneys who have had bad experiences with recruiters, and that makes it difficult for those of us who live by the NALSC code and who are ethical. The way that my team recruits sets us apart; some of our best referrals come from those who were skeptical about working with a legal recruiter.”
Does the Stanford University alumna have goals? Barbara said professionally, she wants to have the opportunity to work with more partners. She wants to create more of a reputation in partner placements. Barbara will also continue to work with associates and law students and assist them in making the right career choices.
As for her personal goals, she stated, “I ran the Honolulu Marathon and trained with AIDS Project Los Angeles. I was one of the top fundraisers and raised over $7000 for AIDS research.” Barbara recalled how she was inspired to run and trained for the Honolulu Marathon. The recruiter saw a brochure at the dry cleaners, which proclaimed: “Never ran a step in life? We can help you train and complete a marathon in six months.” Barbara began training for the marathon starting with a 3 mile run and gradually working up to a 26.2 mile practice marathon in Griffith Park, three weeks before the Honolulu Marathon. Barbara called the marathon “spiritually fulfilling and life changing.”
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